Symptoms, Triggers

Sensory Overload: When Migraine Overwhelms the Senses

Though it is actually about sensory overload in autism, this short animation depicts perfectly what I feel when a migraine heightens my senses so that sights, sounds, smells or touch are overwhelming. I become as irritable as a hungry three-year-old and want to curl up in the fetal position and shut down.

This video shows why I carry earplugs (in a metal box with engraving that says “My cure for everything”!) and calming the constant visual barrage with TheraSpecs is so helpful for me. In fact, a woman who tried TheraSpecs for migraine relief said they were wonderful for her ADD — she felt like they gave her brain a rest. It is exciting to have a product that provides real, noticeable relief in people’s daily lives.

via Krulwich Wonders

13 thoughts on “Sensory Overload: When Migraine Overwhelms the Senses”

  1. Hello, my name is violet. I also suffer with migraines. I get over loaded and that’s not good. I will lose focus and start to snap. I don’t mean to but, the pain is so bad, I can’t think straight anymore! People who don’t have migraines, have no idea what those of us who do are going through! God bless you all!

  2. My migraines would overload all my senses, Touch, taste, smell, sight , hearing and also trigger memories in most of those senses. They would make me quite angry without any prohibition. I saw a neurologist for many years. I learned to get a handle on them after a while. Learned what triggers them with me and when they’re coming on.

  3. Are Triptans similar to the agent in food Tryptophan?which is a relaxant? I am trying to manage visual migraine and sensory overload but without medication. Is that possible?

    1. Hi Ana, no, they are completely unrelated. If you’re interested in a supplement for migraine prevention, magnesium and riboflavin both have good track records.

      Take care,

  4. I’m not a native speaker and I’m confused about the use of “sensory overload” vs “sensory hypersensibility”. My experience is that my migraine/headache is caused by too much sensory input (“overload”) but I do not know that before the headache actually starts. A typical example are meetings or classroom trainings with a projector running, the presenter talking and the people interrupting and asking questions. There is no warning signal, it might happen in otherwise harmless meetings and not happen in loud overcrowded situations . Only after the headache starts I cannot stand any sensory input anymore (hypersensibility).
    BTW: It doesn’t happen always, but I try to avoid these situations as best as I can (working off-hours, skipping meetings). I just got a mail to attend a very important all day trainings from nine-to-five for the next two weeks. Horror! Commuting to work in overcrowded public transport during peak hours is already increasing the risk of a subsequent headache.
    BTW: If I actively experience sensory overload (three different chats in an office room while trying to do serious work on the computer) I can normally escape (->restroom) without getting a headache.

    1. Peter, in this context, “overload” means that sensory input becomes overwhelming. It sounds like the same thing you describe as hypersensibility. From what you describe, it sounds like these situations may not be the cause of your headaches or migraine attacks, but a symptom of them. Not being able to stand sensory input after the pain begins is a classic symptom of migraine attacks. You very likely don’t need to avoid the situations you describe, but need an acute medication to treat the migraine attacks when they occur. This could prevent the sensory overload altogether or could at least make it last only a short time. I recommend talking to a doctor about your symptoms. There’s a class of drugs called triptans that could make for a huge improvement in your life.

      Take care,

  5. Getting migraines at school feels just like this video, everyone is talking, and you can’t respond to people because you can’t tell who’s talking. My worst episode of sensory overload triggered by a migraine happened after my full maze heart surgery and spinal fusion when a lady who I shared a kitchen with decided she needed to run the blender for thirty straight minutes. You could hear it through the entire building. ;(

    1. Sam, I remember vividly what it’s like to get a migraine at school and totally agree that this video nails it. Heart surgery, spinal fusion, and a migraine sound like a terrible time for 30 minutes of a blender!

      Take care,

  6. I have Chronic Migraines, as well as General Anxiety and General Panic. I work in Surveillance. Two days ago at work, I had a migraine. My senses were at full capacity. Every sound was like nails on chalkboard, the lights and computers were like lasers in my eyes, and every stitch of my clothes felt like briars on my skin. I guess I closed my eyes to block out the pain. I took my break on time, took a pill for migraine and another for panic. The headache went away but my senses were so raw, I couldn’t communicate. I returned at the end of my break to email my supervisor what was happening. He called me out of the room, not to help me, but to suspend me for 3 days effective immediately for appearing to sleep on the job. This triggered a full blown panic attack with vomiting. My migraine diagnosis is documented with the Benefits department but I couldn’t get my supervisor or manager to understand what I was going through.

    1. Kat, I’m so sorry. Have you seen the book “Keep Working, Girlfriend”? It’s about managing work with chronic illness. It has some good advice for managing illness in the work environment. I hope you’re able to work this out with your supervisor or HR.

      Take care,

  7. I am 75 years old and have migraines all my life and no one understands how this feels. I have sensory overload and when someone asks me a simple question. It is painful to figure out the answer. Noises, smells, light and any other stimuli hurts. Is there anyway to get this on facebook? What is the answer. Whom do I go to for help? I went to a doctor in Weston, Ma. and he accused me of being a “drug seeker” Nice help and compassion. I was looking for answers and yes medication for the pain, if there is any to help me.

    1. Hi Kathleen, I’ve responded on Facebook, as you know, but I’m responding here in case anyone else has the same questions. The symptoms you describe are classic migraine symptoms. There are effective medications for migraine that are not painkillers. There are both acute treatments (triptans–like Imitrex, Midrin, and Migranal are all options) and more than a hundred possible preventives. I’m sorry your doctor was so dismissive. You have many treatment options, but your best bet is to see a headache specialist, if possible. The top of this page has links to finding a headache specialist:

      Take care,

  8. Omg. Even before I watched the video I was on the verge of a migraine and now it is there. But it shows the truth of what it is like when you get a migraines and how even your heartbeat hurts, even to blink your eyes or talk.

    Thank you for your web site and your voice!
    Blessings! xxx

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