Light & Noise Sensitivity in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By , About.com Guide – Updated January 27, 2011

The Symptom of Light & Noise Sensitivity:

Light and noise sensitivity in fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) have been scientifically established since the early 1990s, but they’re still underrecognized and rarely make symptoms lists. Rest assured that you’re not alone in experiencing this symptom!

When I used to take my kids to daycare, some mornings the noise would hit me like brick wall. In a instant, I’d have pain, nausea, dizziness, trembling, and a looming panic attack. More than once, I had to call in sick as a result of it. I’ve had similar experiences with bright or flashing lights, or with visual chaos in general.

Causes of Light & Noise Sensitivity:

We don’t know the causes of light and noise sensitivity, but they’re often called “generalized hypervigilance.” That means our bodies are constantly on high alert. It’s also a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Hypervigilance is beneficial for people in potentially dangerous situations, such as soldiers or police officers, because it speeds up several processes and helps with crisis response.

In FMS and ME/CFS, however, hypervigilance overwhelms us. We don’t know why, but possibilities include:

Symptoms of Generalized Hypervigilance:

Common symptoms of hypervigilance include:

  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Trembling
  • Rapid or labored breathing
  • Sweating
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
Treating Light & Noise Sensitivity:

So far, we don’t have research showing that specific treatments alleviate light and noise sensitivity in FMS and ME/CFS.

In people with PTSD, treatment for the anxiety related to generalized hypervigilance can include mental-health counseling and medications, especially antidepressants. These medications are also common treatments for FMS and ME/CFS.

Supplements for anxiety and stress may help you cope better with light and noise sensitivity as well. Some people also benefit from treatments such as massage or acupuncture.

Impact on Your Life:

Light and noise sensitivity can have a huge impact on your life. You may avoid certain situations and even fear them, which increases anxiety. It can also contribute to social isolation, which is common in people with FMS or ME/CFS, and can worsen depression.

Some work environments are difficult to endure. I used to be a television news producer, which meant sitting under a lighting grid in a room with dozens of TVs and ringing phones. I went from thriving on the chaos to having regular anxiety attacks. I decided to leave the job. Other people may be able to get reasonable accommodation to lessen the impact of this symptom.

Coping With Light & Noise Sensitivity:

You might be able to eliminate or avoid many sources of excess noise and light, but you probably can’t eliminate all of them. Several simple things can help you deal with light and noise sensitivity in your daily life:

  • Sunglasses are a must outside.
  • If fluorescent lights bother you, lightly tinted sunglasses or a hat with a brim may help.
  • In a noisy environment, ear plugs or listening to music on headphones may help some people.
  • Deep breathing and other relaxation techniques can help you get through episodes of sensory overload due to light and noise.
  • Teach your family and friends about the impact that light and noise have on you so they understand your requests to turn off lights or turn down the volume.
  • If your computer screen bothers you, try adjusting the brightness and contrast.

How do you deal with light and noise sensitivity? What impact has it had on your life? What symptoms does it cause?

About Michelle Arbore

I am 36 years old, married for 8 years and have an almost 3 year old, Michael Richard. We also have two cats (Anibel & Mama). I own my own social media management and coaching business that allows me to work from home. I like to read, listen to music, take photos, learn new things, shop, watch TV and spend time with family and friends. I also suffer from Fibromyalgia. I have suffered from this disease for over 15 years now. I started my blog so I could have a place to vent about what I am feeling. It has turned into a place where I post information about this disease, talk about books that I am reading about Fibro, and getting to meet other people who suffer from this.
This entry was posted in Chronic Fatigue, Chronic Pain, Depression, Diet, Exercise, Fatigue, Fibro, Fibromyalgia, Medicine, Memory Problems, Stress and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Light & Noise Sensitivity in Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

  1. I have had fibro sincce 1993 when they finaally diagnoised it. I have all the symptoms to light and my ears can drive me crazy especially High pitched noise, I enjoy your articals. pain is a everyday thing and we just have to learn what works and what dosen’t.

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