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Fluorescent lights as a Migraine trigger — a list of resources

1. The Irlen petition, which currently has over 2,000 signatures. We need to get it more widespread! As I mentioned before, I have tried to contact Helen Irlen to see if she’d be willing to have me, someone, anyone! host the petition on a bigger scale so more people could see it. She didn’t get back to me. The petition includes three other resources, which I’ve listed right here:,22606,23000203-5006301,00.html

2. ABC News article entitled “Major Headache? 7 Common Migraine Triggers.” Lighting, including fluorescents, is the first item on the list.

3. A Washington ABC affiliate’s brief article & newscast called “Dealing With ‘Lightbulb Migraines’.”

4. MyMigraineConnection’s story, “Migraines at Work? Check the Lighting.

5. “No Joke, Bulb Change is a Challenge for U.S.”
by Claudia Deutsch at The New York Times.

6. U.K. paper The Daily Mail story called “Energy-Saving Bulbs ‘Can Cause Migraines,’ Warn Experts.” Definitely look at the comments that follow the story!

7. Energy Star CANADA’s page describing Canada’s legislation to improve bulb efficiency–interestingly, they are doing what one of my fellow bloggers recommended, which is requiring a minimum level of efficiency per bulb and not requiring that citizens use CFLs only. In the FAQs, they dispute the idea that the new, rapid-cycling CFLs will affect Migraineurs. They mention that new CFLs eliminate “the perceptible flicker” associated with headaches. The problem is just that: to many Migraineurs, the flicker isn’t readily apparent to the eye but is far from “imperceptible” to the brain. Chalk it up to our overall heightened sensitivity, but CFLs can and do trigger Migraine attacks.

8. Check out the following excerpt from what I take is a Sierra Club blog written by a “Mr. Green.” Here you’ll see Helen Irlen (yes, of Irlen fame!) remarking on the bulbs’ side effects as well as his response. I’ve included that excerpt here, but the whole page is interesting to see.


Hey Mr. Green,
While we understand the nation’s quest to better the environment, and we agree that much of the outcry regarding mercury in compact fluorescent lightbulbs is overzealous, we do want to point out another issue with CFLs that many people are not aware of. In the United States alone, 49 million people suffer physical effects from energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs.For individuals suffering from Irlen syndrome, a perceptual processing disorder defined largely by sensitivity to light, fluorescent lights trigger headaches, migraines, stomachaches, fatigue, eyestrain, anxiety, and irritability. Fluorescent lights can also negatively impact the immune system, literally making these individuals sick.

Energy conservation is an important goal we should strive to achieve, but individuals who are sensitive to fluorescent lights need the option of incandescent lightbulbs in their homes and work environments. So we ask that you remain open to incandescent lightbulbs as an alternative for individuals suffering from Irlen syndrome and the physical difficulties triggered by fluorescent lights. –Helen L. Irlen, executive director, Irlen Institute International Headquarters,

Hey Helen,
This is news to me, but a number of readers share your concern. Any proposed legislation mandating more-efficient lightbulbs should take the possible health effects into account. The LED lights mentioned by the EPA’s Wendy Reed may provide some relief in the future as well.
Mr. Green

9. More from Ms. Irlen regarding oversensitivity, lighting, etc., especially as it relates to autism.

10. This page has a whole list of resources, some of which deal with fluorescents’ effect on sensitive individuals. Here’s another that’s migraine- and headache-specific. Finally, some brain research. I didn’t look through these articles, but there may be some good information in ’em. The Irlen page has other useful tidbits; look through and see what else you find!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    9 years ago

    Excellent list Janet – I’m sharing it in several places today as our local TV station is doing a piece on the law that will effectively remove incandescents from our homes. I wouldn’t mind paying a higher price for them, or seeking a special permit to use them, but to remove them is unconscionable to me. “…they know not what they do.”

  • Tim Oatley
    12 years ago

    I have now very happily found a solution to all of this – they are called photonstars. I saw them at the ecobuild show a couple of months ago.

    They are LED based lights which do not have all these problems, and are free of mercury – and relieving the biggest headache of all – I expect it will outlive me – yes really – they last for about 50 years!! No light bulbs failing in the middle of the night – yay!

    They do these great recessed spotlights which I could not have before because I have insulated ceilings, but these ones can be used – so another problem solved. They are more expensive initially, but to be honest – a few packs of migraine pills, or even a couple of bulb changes and they are paid for. Love them!!!

    You can only get them direct at the moment but I bet that will change soon – here is their website

  • themigrainegirl
    12 years ago

    Krissy, I appreciate the feedback. The amount of mercury in CFLs is not the primary thing I’m concerned with–I’m worried about the immediate effects all types of fluorescents on people’s health and well-being.

    Thank you for the information and the quote.

  • Krissy
    12 years ago

    Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

  • themigrainegirl
    12 years ago

    I can’t get that letter from Helen Irlen to show up correctly; sorry!

    Thanks for the links, Incandescence and Johnny!

  • Johnny 5
    12 years ago

    As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  • Incandescence
    12 years ago

    I totally agree! So much so that I’ve put up a website to try to focus the movement to repeal that section of Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

    Representative Bachmann has proposed HR 5616 IH
    ”Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act”
    that does just that.

    I have info on my site and blog about how to write your representatives and there is a petition at to sign.

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