Occupation: Software Product Manager
Location: Seattle, WA
Hello from Seattle.
I've been experiencing symptoms from phone and computer use since about 2003 or so - which spans the vast majority of my adult life. For the first half of that time, the symptoms would come and go and they were manageable for the most part. I would have a couple of bad weeks and then things would go back to normal - almost like an extended remission of sorts. However, over the last few years, it has been a constant battle. My primary symptoms have been headaches, fatigue, and brain fog.
I've tried a variety of things over the years. My neurologist put me on Topamax (Topiramate) and that worked for a while, but I didn't like the side effects. Then, years later, when I decided to try it again, it no longer worked. The same doctor suggested 400mg of B2 (Riboflavin) per day and that worked wonders for a couple of years (if I have my timeline correct). But it no longer works for me. I've also tried countless other supplements (e.g. Magnesium Citrate; SAM-E) with varying degrees of success, but nothing seems to work anymore.
One thing that gave me hope: in March 2021 I had a full 4 weeks without a headache, even though I was working a full day at the computer, every day. The headaches did come back, but that pain-free month was the boost I needed to keep going. Leading up to that point of remission I had done a few things. I'm not sure which, if any, are causal:
- I'd started an intermittent fasting regimen with a mix of 16-hour, 20-hour, and sometimes 36-hour fasts. That was from about January - March. (I used Dr. Jason Fung's book "The Complete Guide to Fasting" as my guide.)
- I'd been running on a treadmill for about 30 minutes a day, every morning for several weeks.
- I had a 1-week vacation from work, where I hadn't used my laptop at all. (And, presumably I wasn't as stressed out about work, presentations, deadlines, etc.)
- I bought a grounding mat to stand on while also unplugging my standing desk from the wall (with the theory that the voltage from the PC and the desk were affecting me in some way). Note: I'm not sure grounding is actually safe, so I've stopped that practice!
- I may have also been doing daily meditation at the time for about 30min/day (but I don't recall; I've been on/off with that practice).
I mention all of the above in case it helps someone else or provides any clues. Unfortunately, my headaches came back after that 4-week window even though I was still fasting and grounding. But it was enough to give me hope that my brain wasn't broken beyond repair! During those 4 weeks I also noticed a significant increase in energy, spatial reckoning (I could get around the city more easily even without Google Maps), and crazy increases in memory/recall.
So that was my story up until then - increasingly bad headaches, fog, etc. for many, many years… with a breakthrough of 4 pain-free weeks in March 2021. Then the headaches came back with a vengeance. Note that, at this point, I still had no idea what was causing my headaches. My primary theories were: WiFi, Bluetooth, and/or the electromagnetic field generated by the computer when plugged into the wall. (Since the brain is an electric device, I figured maybe some odd interaction was happening.) For whatever reason, I didn't suspect my laptop screen or the lighting in my home / office.
I finally had another breakthrough in November 2021. I went on Google and searched for "<name of my laptop> headaches" and found a bunch of threads where people talked about their laptop screens/configs. That's how I first learned about PWM, dithering, and other related topics. And it's how I found this forum as well. After reading various threads, I immediately turned my laptop's brightness to 100% (to avoid PWM) and changed my color profile in Windows from "Enhanced" to "sRGB" (which maybe reduced dithering? not sure)… but I found immediate relief! Since doing that, I'd say my headaches have gone from a 10 to a 4. But it hasn't been like those glorious 4 weeks back in March 2021. So I'm still on the hunt for solutions.
My next suspect was the LED lighting in my home. I have some really cheap lights that were installed by the previous homeowner. When I record them in SLO-MO on my iPhone they are clearly flickering like crazy -- as in, completely black in alternating video frames. So I need to get those replaced. (Unfortunately, they aren't bulb-based. They're built INTO the fixture and attached to a vaulted ceiling; so not the easiest to replace. But at least it was easy to identify.) For the more traditional fixtures in my home, I purchase some so-called "Flicker Free" bulbs by Philips. And I think that's my mistake. We'll see. When recorded on SLO-MO, they don't appear to flicker, but that could be because they're flickering at a rate that's higher than the FPS of the iPhone, so it appears like steady light when it's not. THIS was the thread on LEDStrain that convinced me to find a true flicker-free bulb. And I'm so thankful for it. It's the reason I decided to create an account. 🙂 I ordered a 6-pack of Waveform bulbs, per the thread. I'm hopeful they work out as the final piece to the puzzle. Hopefully I'll be back here in a few weeks saying how great they've worked! (Today I'm working with home workspace lights off and my windows open for light until my new flicker-free bulbs arrive.)
When I think about it, flicker makes perfect sense as the root cause of my issues: "disabling" PWM flicker on my laptop definitely helped. Also, over the years, my office buildings likely had a mix of flickering fluorescent lighting and early-generation LED lighting that also flickered - which is likely why I felt so exhausted by midday. (Maybe it's also why I feel sick in IKEA and Target sometimes?) I like it when I can see one root cause that could explain a variety of experiences from over the years. So I'm really hopeful. But, if this "flicker-elimination" path doesn't ultimately work out, I'm glad I found this community and we'll just keep going!