Migraines and Light Bulbs: What can we expect from new legal standards?

More people are using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) every day because they have some great features. They are energy efficient and don’t need to changed often. Even though they cost more up front, they last longer than incandescent light bulbs, saving money in the long run. You certainly don’t need to be a tree hugging hippie to see their benefits.

Unfortunately they can trigger migraine attacks (and cause problems for people with epilepsy and certain skin conditions). So while the goal of reducing energy use is noble and good, increasing the pain and suffering of vulnerable people is a questionable trade off. Migraine patients (and others) will still need access to the old standard, incandescent light bulbs, which may soon be unavailable because most of them do not currently meet the minimum energy standards required by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Under this law light bulbs of any kind must use 30% less energy by 2014 and 70% less energy by 2020. While there are certain exceptions for bulbs like appliances or or bug zappers, most incandescent bulbs we use now would no longer be manufactured. The good news is that incandescent manufacturers are hard at work adapting their products.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) says at least two companies, Philips and GE, are working on adapting their technology to meet the energy efficiency standards. Philips has already introduced an energy saver incandescent bulb, the Halogena Energy Saver, which reportedly already meets the 2014 minimum standard for staying on the market. Philips says they use 30% less energy than regular incandescent light bulbs. They are not as efficient as CFLs, but are a big step forward from previous incandescent bulbs. GE has said their goal is to develop a bulb that uses half the energy of their old incandescent bulbs by 2010 and a quarter of the energy of their older bulbs by 2014. In February 2007 GE had announced plans to develop what they called a high efficiency incandescent, but by October 2007 they had stopped working on the product for unknown reasons. The CRS report wasn’t written until February 2008, so hopefully GE is still working on some kind of efficient incandescent option despite stopping work on the other project. According to the New York Times Osram Sylvania is also working to increase the energy efficiency of their incandescent products.

I’ve read article after article over the past few years asking why it’s worth bothering to update incandescent light bulbs when we already have the super fantastic CFLs available. It’s a simple answer: people living with migraines and epilepsy. CFLs are an easy choice for most people. But for those who are negatively affected by CFLs, updated incandescents will allow them to live comfortably and decrease their energy use at the same time. Ultimately that’s what really matters, not what form energy efficient light bulbs take.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Light Bulb? | Lighting Efficiency Standards in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 | Why are incandescent light bulbs being phased out? | Low Energy Bulbs and Migraines | Incandescent Light Bulbs Return to Cutting Edge | GE Announces Advancement in Incandescent Technology | GE Quietly Folds on High Efficiency Incandescent

Comments

View Comments (30)
  • Crystalrz4
    5 years ago

    I am a fully Disabled Chronic Migraineuer with Epilepsy, and have found only one CFL that does not trigger my migraines or seizures, the G.E. Reveal 60w Bulb. It is a natural daylight type bulb that I started using as an incandescent to help me see color better. Only a couple of months ago I tried it as a Compact Fluorescent Light, in a floor lamp with light shade and have had no problems to date. I also have not detected any type of flicker.

    I don’t know if it might work for anyone else, but it is the ONLY one that has worked for me so far. FYI

  • Crystalrz4
    4 years ago

    Charlie, I also have glaucoma, in my left eye, and have to be very careful about any medications that raises pressure in that eye. I’m on five ophthalmic eye drops for the glaucoma.

    Yes! Any kind of flashing lights, whether it is due to the fans on over the cash registers, with the lighting above, which causes a rhythmic flashing, police or fire trucks with their light bars going, or as the example that you gave. I can always feel the start of a seizure with that rhythmic flashing. The dizziness, headache, nausea, loss of balance, if I can’t get away from the situation quick enough, (closing my eyes doesn’t help), I will have a petit mal.

  • charlie
    5 years ago

    That’s good information since I noticed right off, after I changed every bulb in the house to CFLs, that my eyesight suffers from them. I also bought a round of LED Christmas tree lights–they produce far too much glare for me and I ended up taking them down and putting the old ones back on. Glare and bright lights bother me a lot. Not only do I have acephalic (painless) migraines with aura, but my eye doctor has placed me on glaucoma watch. She says I have damage to my optic nerve in both eyes and other tests indicate I am at high risk for glaucoma. One reason I found this site today is the I was looking to see what connections exist between glaucoma and migraines with aura. I also had two seizures years ago during the first year I was on birth control pills. And, driving through a tree-filled road with sun glinting in and out can trigger a seizure. I have never been diagnosed with epilepsy, and once I stopped taking the pills, I have never had another seizure. Obviously though,my brain is adversely affected by exposure to some kinds of light, and it never was prior to the birth control pill exposure. Otherwise, my eyesight is 20/15 in both eyes, and I have no other vision problems. I was hoping to find some writings on this site that address acephalic migraines (as diagnosed by my neurologist). But I guess no one here has such a condition??

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Blog,
    Acephalgic Migraines is not a diagnosis recognized by the International Classification of Headache Disorders. It is formally referred to as Retinal Migraines. I’m assuming that you have an aura, but do not get the Headache? Here’s an educational article about the different types of Headaches that are often referred to as “silent Migraines.” https://migraine.com/migraine-types/silent-migraine/

    There has been a recent study on the relationship between Migraines and Glaucoma:
    https://migraine.com/blog/eye-problems-in-migraine-patients/

    I hope this info helps!
    -Katie

  • LuLu5
    5 years ago

    It’s the worst kind of feeling. I have worked in an office setting for over 11 years. I HATE the flourescent lighting! I might as well be staring into the sun. Add to it that all of the walls are white as well as the paper used and it just reflects all the more. I wear yellow tinted computer glasses to try to compensate for the glare. It can only help a little bit. The flickering of the lights is also makes my day very uncomfortable. At home, my family has gotten accustomed to dim lighting. I never use overhead lighting and avoid flourescent lighting whenever possible. I am not finding that it is very difficult to even find incandesent light bulbs in the stores. I hope that the efforts that are being made will come to fruition and lead to positive results. Thank you!!

  • shine4him
    5 years ago

    I guess I’m lucky that CFLs aren’t one of my triggers. That said, I still am concerned about being forced to use them. Not only are they expensive, but they don’t really last that much longer than incandescent bulbs (my parents have used both for quite a while, and have to change out the CFLs regularly).

    As a chemist, I also agree with the other posters that the mercury in these bulbs is certainly not good for the environment. Although all the bulbs contain a warning that they need to be disposed of in designated facilities, most people won’t do that. And while each bulb contains only a little, it adds up quick. Think about the number of bulbs in a typical household. If I spilled that much mercury in my lab, I would need to call a hazmat team for cleanup!

    I’m hoping this phase doesn’t last long, for all of our sakes!

  • sarals
    5 years ago

    Let me know if you have found any good ones, so far I have avoided them. I’m dreading the change..

  • Marjieoc
    6 years ago

    Judging from the articles I read as an editor for a magazine about construction, CFLs will go the way of beta videotapes before long. LEDs are what most commercial builders are installing for new construction or renovation. They are more efficient and more versatile: You can get whatever shade of “white” light you need. I suggest visiting a lighting-supply house with a showroom and ask about LEDs with warmer color temperatures. You can now get LEDs with regular bases, too (medium [Edison] bases or chandelier bases), so you don’t need adapters for your lamps at home.

    Meanwhile, not all CFLs are created equal. While the price has come down over the years since their introduction, there are still considerable differences. As with anything else, you usually get what you pay for.

    We need to figure out a solution for migraineurs who are sensitive to CFLs, tho. In a few more years, it will be impossible to find incandescent bulbs of almost any wattage as the government mandates continuing phase-outs. Maybe we’ll end up with “medical light bulbs” being sold in medical-marijuana shops!

  • not so joy
    6 years ago

    I have found that when I have to be in a flourescent lighting enviroment, if I can get them to switch to bulbs that burn at 3500Kelvin then I have less trouble with them. They cost the same, they just produce a different shade of light. However if the ballasts are bad then nothing will help.
    I’ve also found a place that makes glasses in a tint especially for migrainuers axonoptics.com Better than dark sunglasses which change the color of everything & make it nearly impossible to shop.

  • mdelaney
    6 years ago

    My cousin’s house was recently struck by lightning. He had both CFLs and regular bulbs throughout his home. ONLY the CFLs blew up, literally. The clean up was hazardous because of mercury or whatever toxic material they contain. If a regular bulb shattered, all you have to worry about is sweeping up glass. And the government thinks these CFLs are “better” for us???

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    6 years ago

    mdelaney – I am so very sorry! The scary thing is reading the labels for those bulbs. The last time I read one, it did require hazardous clean-up. And what about the mercury in the air that resulted? *yikes*

  • robertallen
    6 years ago

    The CFL lightbulbs do NOT save money over the long term. A 75 watt incandescent bulb costs 15 cents. The equivalent CFL costs $4. The CFL lasts “up to” 3 times as long (though not in my experience). The cost is 26 times as much!!! Even at $3 a bulb would have to last twenty times as long before breaking even. In fact, studies have shown that the energy savings are only slight .. because people tend to not turn off the new bulbs when leaving a room as they did with the old ones!

  • sarals
    5 years ago

    It’s a conspiracy theory….mercrury poisoning will be rampant, it’s the new plan…Just kidding. it does make you wonder if all of this was thought out very well though..

  • robertallen
    6 years ago

    Also .. the new bulbs have no warming properties .. meaning higher energy bills in the winter. One often turns up central heating for the whole house now instead of partially relying on the warm light bulbs where one is actually sitting.

  • livinwithmigrainepain
    6 years ago

    Any type of bulb bothers me, with the exception of a dim night light. I wear sunglasses indoors even when shopping; I get weird looks and comments, but I am quick to point out that the lighting makes me sick. The one place I complain the most is at the Neurologist’s office, you would think they’d be the first ones to have dim lights and not use migraine triggering lighting.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    I totally agree. I’ve been in some neurologists office’s where the lighting has absolutely been the worst. Stick with your sunglasses and don’t worry about the looks, whatever works to stave off an attack is ok in my book!

  • Gregory Joseph Gauthier
    7 years ago

    Try the Halogena bulbs I think you will like them especially the “natural-daylight” version, They are mercury-free by the way.

  • Bethany Hamilton
    7 years ago

    Still prefer old bulbs. Light is softer for those of us that are light sensitive. Also hate the delay to turn on.

  • Justin Church
    7 years ago

    If I had to think about the light sources that have triggered my migraines, I would have to say the order is: 1) the sun, 2) incandescent camera flash bulbs, 3) neon, 4) LEDs (damn those keychains!), 5) incandescent regular bulbs, 6) Fluorescent (tubes and CFLs combined).

    For me it is more intensity than the flicker, though I’m sure all of our triggers are subtly different and equally unpleasant in their result.

  • Mary Allen Johnston
    8 years ago

    One more example of Obama’s BIG Government. You would think the Dems have more to worry about than taking my LIGHT BULBS….Economy? Immagration? Wars? Gas Prices? Really? Light Bulbs to give me Headaches…UGH…2012 at the POLLS.

  • robertallen
    6 years ago

    scottygs, it IS political .. the Republicans ran against the light bulbs in the latest election, the Democrats ran for it. Bush signed it, yes, just as he signed the TSA into law .. both as compromises with the Democrats (in other words, the Republican Party was against both but Bush got something in return from the Democrats, so he signed them). That still makes them Democrat bill and laws. By the way, The Republicans actually voted and enacted a law (also signed by Bush) that states the light bulb manufacturers will not be fined for making the old light bulbs .. but instead they shut down the very last American light bulb factory and moved production of the new ones overseas. It is the lightbulb companies who were behind the transition to the new expensive bulbs in the first place. But the new laws prevent a new company to come along and sell what the people really want. The only ones who can change this situation are elected politicians, so yes Virginia it IS political.

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    6 years ago

    Hi scottygs,

    Have you tried any of the special glasses that are now available to with light sensitivity? Not quite the same thing, but a very useful product. Let me give you some information; http://migraine.com/sponsored/sponsored-proven-migraine-relief-with-new-theraspecs-glasses/

  • scottygs
    6 years ago

    To turn this into an anti-President Obama rant is ludicrous when it DID begin under Bush! I wish people did their homework first before going on the attack. Now let’s please stop with the political attacks and worry about the MIGRAINE attacks?!! I’ve just joined this forum and have had difficulties with fluorescent lights for YEARS–can hardly visit the big stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc.) or box stores (Costco, etc.)without my prescription sunglasses and having to face away from the lights as much as possible, but ALWAYS feel nauseated anyway. Took me a while to figure it out–when I’d tell anyone they thought I was being ‘overly dramatic’. Indoors I can’t stay in rooms with CFL’s for more than a few minutes although my husband simply doesn’t get it. I’m showing him this article–perhaps it’ll finally sink in. Likewise sunlight. My eyes are super sensitive due to thyroid orbitopathy, but now it’s nearly an instantaneous migraine if I go outside without shades. I can barely open my eyes in bright sun and my eyes stream tears. That sure puts a crimp in one’s social life. I will say I’m grateful to find a forum where there are others discussing MY same issues, so finally have something to back up what I’ve been expressing for years. That alone makes a difference.

  • Justin Church
    7 years ago

    Migraines are no fun, and I’m no fan of fluorescent, but the bill was signed by George Bush in 2007. 36 house republicans and 19 senate republicans voted for it. For the recent political climate, and the fact that this was an “agenda” item for democratic congressional leaders in that session, it’s is a pretty bi-partisan result.

    I prefer my polarization in the form of lenses that keep migraines away rather than the political variety. In another article I was reading, I did see that there are some loopholes. 3-way bulbs are still ok, and high-wattage bulbs are ok too (thinking dimmers!) 😉

  • Mary Allen Johnston
    8 years ago

    Well if the Aliens show up, lets offer them all the damn new light bulbs. Give them the headaches…

  • Lisa Marie Caraway
    8 years ago

    right before the aliens take us away or blow us up in December! YAY!

  • Joanna Scoby
    8 years ago

    Before you know it, we’re going to have to have a prescription to have the incandescent bulbs. CFLs are horrible for me and my migraines.

  • Karen Stanley Haack
    8 years ago

    The CFL’s also contain high levels of Mercury which our government is failing to tell us. How do you legally dispose of these poisonous light bulbs. I have removed these from our home and am still buying the old fashion light bulbs…….look into this…It is horrible for the enviroment.

  • Diana-Lee author
    8 years ago

    Those newer headlights kill me, too! For some reason they feel so much more intense than the traditional type.

  • 8 years ago

    This is SO true and in some instances I can actually hear the bulb radiating right before I have a migraine episode. They are crazy bulbs sometimes(for me) and the new lights in the headlights of newer cars can literally have me pulling off the road they are so eye piercing.

  • Poll