Fluorescent lights can trigger headaches because of their flickering, intensity, brightness, or glare. Manufacturers have developed covers for the bulbs that filter the light and may prevent headaches. Changing the color of the bulb may also help.

Some people in an office under fluorescent lights, which can cause headaches. -1Share on Pinterest
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Fluorescent lights are part of most people’s daily lives. People use them to light their homes, workplaces, and some electronic devices, including computer screens.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that while compact fluorescent lamps are safe to use, people who experience headaches from them may benefit from sitting further away from the device.

Doctors call sensitivity to light photophobia, and people experiencing it may find even low levels of lighting increases their pain. They may also experience pain and discomfort in their eyes.

Many people with migraine experience photophobia, according to the American Migraine Foundation (AMF), but it is linked to other types of headaches as well.

This article looks at the connection between headaches or migraine and fluorescent lights.

Fluorescent lights are an energy-efficient form of lighting, but they can cause headaches.

The National Headache Foundation (NHF) explains some people find bright lights increase their head pain. They add that the color or wavelength of the light also plays a part.

Many fluorescent lights use blue-green light, and people closely link this to photophobia.

Bright lights can bounce off other surfaces, causing glare, and making it difficult for the person to see. If the person has photophobia, glare can contribute to their headaches.

Flickering is another problem. Fluorescent lights flicker constantly, but at such high speeds that most people interpret it as a steady stream of light.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) explains some people notice the flickering and may experience headaches, eyestrain, and general eye pain.

People may be able to reduce the number of fluorescent-light-related headaches or migraine episodes they experience by making some simple changes.

If a person experiences pain due to lights in their workplace, their employer may be obliged to make these changes.

Some tips on avoiding fluorescent light headaches include:

  • Using a ballast: The CCOHS explains that fluorescent lights need a ballast to control their electricity supply and that the type of ballast affects the flicker rate. Some manufacturers use high-frequency electronic ballasts, which increase the flickering rate to such an extent that many people with photophobia cannot detect it, and do not have as many headaches.
  • Changing light colors: Choosing fluorescent bulbs in warmer colors may also help. The AMF explains that blue light causes the most problems for people with photophobia. They recommend using bulbs with a noticeable orange or yellow, hue.
  • Using filters: Screens and filters can also help. Anti-glare screens for electronic devices have a special coating that minimizes reflections, and people can use covers to filter the light coming from fluorescent lights.
  • Using tinted eyewear: Some people also benefit from tinted eyewear. The AMF explains that the FL-41 tint, which is pinkish in color, is particularly effective. This can be used on both contact lenses and spectacles. Sunglasses may also help.
  • Moving away from the light: The FDA adds that simply moving further away from a fluorescent light can reduce its harmful effects.

There is no specific treatment for headaches from fluorescent lights, but if it triggers a migraine episode, the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) recommends the person rests in a quiet, dark room, with a cold cloth, or ice pack on their forehead.

For other types of headaches, NINDS says doctors may recommend pain relief medication.

Frequent headaches can be debilitating, and interfere with a person’s daily life.

The AMF recommends keeping a headache diary to work out if the headaches follow a pattern. Once a person knows what triggers their headache, they may be able to avoid it.

Other ways of managing headaches include keeping hydrated, and using soft lighting when relaxing.

The AMF advises against limiting exposure to bright lights completely. They explain that this increases the person’s sensitivity, making it harder for them to tolerate light in different circumstances.

Cutting down on screen time may also reduce the number of headaches a person experiences.

People most commonly associate sensitivity to light with migraine, according to the AMF, but it is a symptom of other conditions including:

Most people with headaches from fluorescent lights do not need medical attention, but there are some warning signs to look for in case their headache is a symptom of something more serious.

According to NINDS, these include:

  • 2+ headaches in a week
  • sudden and severe headaches with a stiff neck
  • headache with loss of feeling in any part of the body
  • headache with nausea or vomiting that is not a migraine episode
  • headache with convulsions

Fluorescent lights can trigger headaches in people with photophobia, or sensitivity to light. They can also cause headaches in people who are sensitive to their flickering.

People can reduce the likelihood of getting a headache by changing the color of the bulb, using high-frequency electronic ballasts to control their electricity supply, wearing tinted eyewear, and reducing electronic screen time.

They may also benefit from using filtering screens to cover the bulbs.