Living in the shadows
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