Monday, December 10, 2012

Chronic Migraine story: I am taught...

The doctor who finally helped me with migraines, Dr Digre, told me I have a more "sensitive and easily irritated" brain. Oh, joy. I kinda thought what she meant was that I was easily amused.

What happened before she told me that was that I was confronted with a little black box with blinking LED lights. I was to look at the lights and tell whether I could still see the blinking or steady on at the current rate setting. At some point, depending on the eye to brain interface, the perception of flickering would change into a blur of speed at which point the interpretive brain would change the perception from flicker to steady on.  And blah blah blah, more scientific tricks that had little significance to me, at the time.  Nothing to lose.

The technician giving the test would manipulate the settings on the box and then question me if I could still see the blinking. After recording my answers,  he would switch to box to a different rate. The box selected its rate as a random sequence, in no particular order, varying from high to low and back again across a whole wide spectrum of rates.

As I understood, I was impressed with the testing methodology. Simple and accurate. There was no possible way for the test to be fooled, because the variation of blink rate changed at random unpredictable sequence, controlled by the machine. As the test was conducted, enough samples could easily be taken to virtually eliminate sampling errors. The technician could not even control the blink rate at the current setting, so bias from the technician was impossible. Blink blink blink solid blink solid solid blink blink solid blink blink.

Turns out that individual perception of the highest oscillation rate varies widely. Those people with average flicker rate perception tended to lose the blinking somewhere over 45-50 cycles per second. They rated my perception at among the highest normally measured, more than 90 cycles per second.

Yeah, but so what? I didn't get it. Why did they care? I wasn't filled with any great sense of accomplishment to learn that my perception limit was much higher than average. Just a fluke, I guess. I never asked for it, that I know of.

After some more testing methods and questions from the Dr. she explained to me. The reason they want to determine individual blink rate perception is that the design of pieces of our whole system of advanced technology, from fluorescent lights to CRT displays to Game Boys, is based on assumptions and compromises around calculations of the average oscillation rate perception speed. Are you following this so far? In an especially significant choice of design specification, the engineers of fluorescent lighting devices decided that the optimum flicker rate of their light tubes would be based on their measurements of the average individual rate perception. For no particular reason but that somebody had to decide on a rate before they mass manufacture billions of these things.

Well, just my tough luck. I don't match the standard design. When the eye to brain connection encounters flickering rates at speeds near the border of transition from blink to solid, turns out all kinds of unforeseen and heretofore unknown things begin to happen.

For those with more sensitive brains, the oscillation rate so near the limit of perception begins to irritate that individual brain in some unpredictable ways. Some develop eye strain. Some become cranky and irritable for no reason. Some get whopping headaches. And some people develop chronic migraines, subject to variation in cumulative exposure and the occultic prediction of next phase of the moon, and other unknown unknowable and unpredictable factors.

Wow! So that's one plausible explanation for why I have constant headaches. And in spite of the fact that other people all around me are not suffering the same ill effects, I need some protection. Like a bullet proof suit or something. To protect me from a specific vulnerability or weakness that is especially my own.

Dr Digree told me that her researchers had discovered that the sensitive people were especially affected most often by exposure to high intensity fluorescent lighting systems, and CRT display devices of a particular refresh rate lower than around 70 cycles per second.

Damn! I had been working long hours with CRT display devices under high intensity fluorescent lighting systems for more than twenty years!

Okay, so Dr Digre said that in response to the research study, her group had developed filtered glass lenses that would effectively block exposure of the eye brain interface from the bombardment of some of this harmful lighting. The lenses cut out enough of the damaging rays of the right frequency of blinking light to protect sensitive people from the lights harmful effects.


Hallelujah! All it would take is wearing some sort of super glasses, and my problems would disappear! Well, not so simple. For chronic migranes, this eliminated only a few of the common triggers that set off some migrane sufferers anguish. The bright lights of the city are not the only thing that start a migrane so often in certain people. There are plenty of others. Who cares, its worth a try in any case.

Dr Digre wrote me a prescription for the optician, and I went off to get me a new pair of funky looking dark glasses.

I was crestfallen when I started wearing them in places were the risk factor for me was high. But I conducted a few studies of my own, and discovered that wearing the glasses in certain places really did make a difference.

It wasn't a problem just everywhere. My CRTs had been upgraded to higher refresh rates long ago, so the glasses made no difference that I could tell in working for long periods of staring at computer screens. But I discovered to my surprise that the most consistent offensive place was LDS chapels everywhere. All across the world, LDS chapel lighting systems seem to have been built with a cycles per second rate in the critical range. I started wearing the glasses all the time, whenever I spent long periods in the church building. The problem started to show improvement, but not at the end quite yet.

Dr Digre told me that one other problem area her researchers discovered was a very high correlation of migrane sufferers and extremely high blood pressure. She called up my regular doctor, discussed her findings with him, and increased the dosage of calcium channel blocker that I had already been taking to the thereputic range for this problem. I left the doctor's office feeling optimistic about the solution to my problems.

It worked. A week or so later, the headaches began to dwindle in intensity. Pretty soon they faded into the background noise. And I haven't experienced this particular problem since. Happy days!

Next instalment:   Abandoning Drug Treatment

1 comment:

Joey Thomas said...

I have the same problem my migranes usually occur though from changes in the source so for instance if i look at my laptop then a tv then my phones screen. It wasnt very bad in the army since for the most part all i did was look at my computer all day. Single sources dont seem to bother me as much.