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Flashing Lights

I have had a number of questions about this subject. What you and my other correspondents are experiencing is really a headache without the pain. People who suffer from migraine type headaches see flashing lights and/or feel dizzy just before the severe pain in the head. The lights are called the ‘aura’ and are a warning sign.

Your flashing lights may, at some point, develop into a headache, which is categorized medically as an ‘exertional headache’, because it starts soon after a sudden exertion. It could be any quick action, such as you describe, or, for instance, moving the head suddenly to the side; or bending down to tie your shoelaces. Dehydration can produce the same effect, so you may experience the lights after along fight. Other triggers are drinking alcohol and eating a heavy, meal. A Chinese meal that contains the additive monosodium glutamate may also start the reaction since, as with migraine, the lights may be an allergic reaction to something the body sees as an enemy. The classic migraine triggers are alcohol, cheese, chocolate and citrus fruits.

To summarize, I would say that any event or substance that raises the heart rate or blood pressure suddenly can cause flashing lights, just as they can induce a migraine-type headache. But in your case, fortunately, the symptoms go as soon as the pulse rate and blood pressure return to normal.

In my experience, most people who suffer from flashing lights (also migraine and exertional headaches) have had a difficult birth that involved a neck injury (including a forceps delivery, or a whiplash injury, fall, head injury or some similar trauma. This event puts one of the vertebrae in the neck (usually the third cervical vertebra) out of alignment. As a result, the pathway of the vertebral arteries is not perfectly straight. If the cervical vertebrae are properly aligned, they keep the vertebral canal, which houses the arteries and veins carrying blood from the heart to the brain, quite straight. But if there is a kink or curve in the canal and the heart rate suddenly goes up there may be turbulence and restricted blood flow to the brain. It is this reduced blood flow that triggers the flashing lights, dizziness and eventually, for many people, headaches. Some doctors and scientists reading this column may disagree, but I have proven the link to my own (and my patients’) satisfaction by showing that treatment to the neck – plus some other simple remedies – solves the problem.

Here is what I suggest:

  • For three to four months (until things, settle down), avoid foods that cause tension in the body – mainly coffee, alcohol, excess salt, monosodium glutamate and any foods that you know you are sensitive to.
  • Drink two liters of still, pure water daily between meals.
  • Drink two cups of Dr Ali’s Relaxation Tea or camomile tea, daily, without honey or sugar (or artificial sweetener).
  • Ask a partner or friend to massage your neck and shoulders twice a week for six to eight weeks. If you can go to a professional therapist sometimes, this is beneficial. You can also massage your neck yourself – you will find instructions in my book the Integrated Health Bible. When the sides of the neck are massaged, you will find there is an area (one third of the distance down from the skull towards the shoulders) that will be quite tender. Massage this gently in a rotating movement until the pain eases.
  • Do yoga: the cobra swing, boat, semi bridge and turtle postures are particularly helpful.
  • Consult an osteopath or chiropractor for two or three sessions, if possible. ( My brother Imran Ali at the Integrated Medical Centre has successfully treated this condition.) A practitioner should massage the affected part soften the muscles and then manipulate. One manipulation can fix the problem temporarily but if your spine has been misaligned for a considerable period, you may need more long-term treatment to deal with the problem muscles, tendons and ligaments.

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