At less than £20 a pair, Simon Cowell’s orange sunglasses are probably one of the cheapest fashion accessories you’ll ever buy.
However, the pop industry icon has rarely been seen in public without them since they first appeared during a taping of America’s Got Talent last fall.
And rightly so: Cowell insists that the glasses, which he is said to have bought online for just £19.98, help him combat the crippling migraines that have apparently plagued him for many years.
Although the TV personality missed a couple of auditions last week while filming Britain’s Got Talent – due to the sudden onset of a painful migraine – she insists the shows are still a huge help.
A friend told reporters: “He trusts them and says they make a big difference.”
Simon Cowell insists the orange glasses, which he is said to have bought online for just £19.98, help him combat the crippling migraines that have plagued him for many years.
Cowell with fellow America’s Got Talent judges Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Mel B and host Terry Crews
But can a pair of cheap, brightly colored sunglasses really offer a simple solution to a disease that affects around seven million people in the UK?
Migraine is a complex neurological disorder that can be hereditary, but is just as likely to affect random people.
The main symptom is a severe, often unilateral, headache that can be so agonizing that it leaves those affected largely incapacitated.
In about 80 percent of cases, it also causes nausea and increased sensitivity to light or sound.
The effect of light sensitivity (known as photophobia) is such that some patients have to stay in a dark room for hours (sometimes days) at a time until the attack passes.
Women are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men, possibly because the attacks are linked to the female hormone estrogen, which is thought to increase the sensitivity of brain cells to pain.
Most patients rely on pain relievers or prescription medications called triptans that can shorten the duration of attacks.
And in recent years, a new class of medications has emerged (the first major advance in migraine treatment in about 30 years) to prevent migraines in the first place.
These drugs, called CGRP inhibitors, which can be injected into the arm once a month or taken as a wafer that melts in the mouth every few days, can cut the number of attacks in half. They work by blocking the effects of a chemical substance, called calcitonin gene-related peptide, responsible for triggering migraines (the main ones are erenumab, galcanezumab and fremanezumab).
But the use of these new drugs in the NHS is strictly limited to the most severe cases: mostly people who suffer at least four attacks a month and have failed to improve with at least three other drugs.
In the meantime, avoiding triggers (light is one of the most common) can help prevent the onset of a migraine.
So could tinted glasses, which can cost between £20 and £300 a pair, a good investment for migraine sufferers who find lights annoying?
“I remember doing some research into light exposure in migraine about 25 years ago,” says Dr Andy Dowson, clinical director of the East Kent NHS headache service.
The pop industry icon has rarely been seen in public without them since they first appeared during a taping of America’s Got Talent last fall.
Blocking red or blue light by wearing glasses coated with chemicals that prevent it from reaching the eye has been shown to help migraine sufferers.
“Back then, we discovered that migraine attacks were much more likely when patients were exposed to light in the red and blue wavelengths than those in yellow or green, for example.”
All light is made up of a spectrum of colors, each with different wavelengths.
At one end of the spectrum are blue and purple, which have the shortest wavelengths, and at the other end are red and orange, which have the longest wavelengths.
Several studies have found that light at both ends of the spectrum (e.g., red and blue) is more likely to trigger migraines than colors in the middle of the spectrum, such as green or yellow. It’s not known why, but certain wavelengths appear to increase pain sensitivity in migraine sufferers.
Blocking red or blue light by wearing glasses coated with chemicals that prevent them from reaching the eye has been shown to help.
“Some people in research I conducted reported that the frequency of attacks was reduced by half to three-quarters when they regularly wore polarized lenses that blocked much of the red and blue light,” says Dr. Dowson.
But he says it’s not necessarily the color of the lens that counts but the chemical coating that filters out harmful light.
The main coating, called FL-41, was first tested by scientists at the University of Birmingham in the early 1990s.
In their study, 20 children with migraine (who were photosensitive) were given FL-41-coated glasses for four months; The research showed that the average number of painful attacks they suffered decreased from 6.2 per month to just 1.6.
Dr. Dowson says tinted glasses may be more in demand than ever, and not because of the Cowell factor.
Instead, some evidence suggests that modern lighting is making migraines worse (or at least making them more frequent) in some people.
In 2016, the European Union banned public use of old incandescent light bulbs due to their energy inefficiency.
They have been replaced, for the most part, by LED bulbs (or light-emitting diodes) that operate with a fraction of the energy.
They now illuminate everything from offices and stores to computer screens, smartphones and vehicle headlights.
But LED light tends to be much richer in blue light (one of the most common migraine triggers) than older-style incandescent bulbs, says Dr. Dowson. In fact, the whiter the light, the more blue light it contains.
“Older light bulbs had a more even distribution of light across the color spectrum,” he says.
‘But the EU declared them illegal in 2016 and they were finally removed (from public use) a few years later.
‘Ten years ago, I was part of a group that lobbied the EU Commission to try to convince it that some people were very sensitive to these lights and should be able to continue buying incandescent bulbs for home use.
“A lady I met was practically housebound because everywhere she went there were LED lights that gave her migraines.”
The EU agreed that incandescent light bulbs could still be purchased for private use, although they are now much harder to come by.
However, blue light emission is not the only problem with LED lights.
They also create a flickering effect, imperceptible to the human eye, which can trigger migraines and headaches in some people, says Dr. Dowson.
This effect is a well-recognized problem. Some migraine sufferers may be triggered by light flickering through trees or the invisible flickering of a computer screen. In both cases, the visual part of the brain becomes overexcited by this effect, paving the way for a migraine attack.
Dr Dowson says: ‘LED lights can also flicker, which can be a factor in migraine attacks. That could be one of the reasons why Simon Cowell suddenly felt unwell.
The music industry guru has spoken in the past about how spending hours at a time under the bright studio lights can increase your chances of suffering a migraine attack.
The manufacturers of some tinted glasses claim that they also protect against the flicker effect, although there is little published research to support this.
So are Simon Cowell-esque glasses worth it?
Dr Dowson says there’s nothing wrong with trying a cheap pair if light is a trigger, and Dr Mark Weatherall, consultant neurologist at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Buckinghamshire, agrees.
Tinted glasses can cost from as little as £20 to £300 a pair.
The main symptom of a migraine is a severe, often unilateral, headache that can be so agonizing that it leaves those affected largely incapacitated.
“About 80 percent of migraines are light sensitive, so wearing them during an attack can be especially helpful.
“And some people find wearing them all the time beneficial, since light can also trigger a migraine.”
Although there are no obvious reports of adverse effects from the glasses, the Migraine Trust charity is not convinced of their benefits.
It says on its website: ‘Various types of glasses are advertised to help with migraines and protect the eyes from certain types of light.
“But there isn’t enough high-quality scientific evidence for us to know whether these glasses help or not, so we can’t recommend them.”