Liv­ing in the shad­ows

Irish Daily Mirror - - HEALTH - BY DANNY BUCK­LAND

The Christ­mas lights are twin­kling around Bri­tain, and while most peo­ple are en­joy­ing their fes­tive sparkle, some are re­treat­ing into the shad­ows as they suf­fer se­vere headaches, nau­sea, burn­ing skin and fa­tigue.

And this is not sim­ply a fes­tive phe­nom­e­non – in­creas­ing num­bers of peo­ple are re­port­ing how their lives are blighted year round by mod­ern light­ing.

Most ar­ti­fi­cial light – in of­fices, shops, public build­ings and even from street lamps – has a flick­er­ing source which ap­pears as a solid light.

The eye trans­lates the flick­ers – up to 200 a sec­ond in some light-emit­ting diode LED lights – but the im­pact on neu­ral path­ways can be trau­matic.

A Public Health Eng­land re­port says that pow­er­ful LED street lamps could in­ter­fere with sleep pat­terns, and warns that the light mod­u­la­tion in LEDS causes a range of symp­toms.

Now char­ity Lightaware is claim­ing that mod­ern light­ing can lead to the so­cial ex­clu­sion of light­sen­si­tive peo­ple who can be af­fected by the flicker, glare, in­ten­sity and the dif­fer­ent light fre­quen­cies gen­er­ated by LED and flu­o­res­cent light­ing.

Some suf­fer­ers have lost jobs, re­la­tion­ships and friend­ships, while oth­ers have been forced to plot safe routes around town and keep a record of which shops and pubs to avoid. The char­ity is cam­paign­ing for a change in the law so that safe light­ing is avail­able ev­ery­where.

Writer Anna Levin takes her own lamp when she stays in ho­tels and B&BS and has a di­min­ish­ing stock of “safe” light­bulbs to take to friends’ houses to min­imise the risk of her se­vere, mi­graine-like symp­toms.

Anna, 48, whose prob­lem is caused mainly by Com­pact Flu­o­res­cent Light­ing (CFL), which has been blamed for leak­ing UV light, has lost count of the events she has missed in her two chil­dren’s lives. “I had to watch my daugh­ter’s bal­let show

IN A DARK PLACE Both Anna and An­drew suf­fer from LED sen­si­tiv­ity

from the win­dow, and my hus­band has at­tended all the school as­sem­blies and af­ter-school ac­tiv­i­ties with­out me,” she says. “My chil­dren are now eight and 13 and have had to do a lot for me, such as go­ing into the bank and shops.

“I first no­ticed it at a con­fer­ence when it started to feel like my face and head were burn­ing when the lights were turned on. It car­ried on af­ter I left the build­ing and I couldn’t sleep or get my words out.

“At first I didn’t go any­where. My doc­tor’s surgery, the hos­pi­tal, chil­dren’s school and restau­rants have CFLS so life ground to a halt.

“I grad­u­ally got bet­ter about talk­ing about it, but I carry old-style light bulbs to take to friends’ homes.

“When we go away, I al­ways take my own lamp with me.”

Her ex­pe­ri­ences in­spired her to write a book, In­can­des­cent: We Need to Talk About Light, on the harm­ful po­ten­tial of mod­ern light­ing on our health.

She is far from alone in her suf­fer­ing. Le­gal pro­fes­sional An­drew Collins, 36, now has to work in a dif­fer­ent build­ing to the rest of his team be­cause the LED light­ing in new of­fices caused him to ex­pe­ri­ence se­vere headaches.

He wears a base­ball cap in cer­tain places to lessen the im­pact as he can no longer source in­can­des­cent light­bulbs which have been banned. “I first no­ticed it when I bought a sta­teof-the-art TV which was LED back­lit,” he says. “I im­me­di­ately got pierc­ing headaches. I tried wear­ing dark glasses but it didn’t make any dif­fer­ence.

“We re­placed the halo­gen lights with LED lights in the lifts at work and it had an in­stant im­pact on me.

“The prob­lem is that this light­ing is ev­ery­where. I can’t go into a su­per­mar­ket with­out get­ting a headache. I try to get older buses be­cause they don’t have LEDS and a lot of the Lon­don Un­der­ground sys­tem is out of bounds for me.

“Re­la­tion­ships were dif­fi­cult for a long time be­cause a lot of places were no-go ar­eas – ex­plain­ing that is very dif­fi­cult.

“It’s been ter­ri­ble – you go from be­ing an or­di­nary Joe, not even know­ing or car­ing about light­ing, to some­one’s whose life is ruled by it.

“Sit­ting on my own at work is not ideal and it has pre­vented me go­ing for pro­mo­tions.

“When I walk into a restau­rant I of­ten have to ask to be put in a cor­ner away from light­ing and that causes dis­com­fort for the peo­ple you are with and can lead to so­cial stigma and iso­la­tion.”

An­drew, who has been pre­scribed a range of headache tablets by GPS, wants to see more re­search into the ef­fects of LEDS, and ex­emp­tions on the sale of in­can­des­cent light­bulbs.

Ex­pert Pro­fes­sor Arnold Wilkins, of Es­sex Univer­sity, warned about the is­sues with flicker in flu­o­res­cent light­ing al­most 30 years ago.

“There is noth­ing to tell the pur­chaser what they are get­ting,” he says. “We need to stop LED lights with large amounts of flicker be­ing sold and we need leg­is­la­tion rather than stan­dards be­cause if you can sell some­thing you will.”

■■For more info, go to lightaware.org

‘‘ Light­ing now rules my life... I’ve found it can lead to so­cial stigma and iso­la­tion

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