I’m a 42 year old molecular biologist and teacher. In the past year I have been exposed to new LED signs and overhead lighting that trigger immediate pain and after more than a few minutes exposure, trigger migraines that include pain/pressure behind my eye. In the context of this, I’ve also noticed that screen usage causes the same sensation of pain/pressure behind my eye (although to a somewhat lesser degree) and seems to aggrevate the migraine symptoms. The screen sensitivity is most noticable when I have an LED-caused migraine, but is still present to a lesser degree when I don’t have a migraine.
I first noticed an issue in that it was painful (immediate pain behind my eyes) when looking at an LED billboard in Times Square. Last year my bank put a new LED-backlit sign behind the tellers (probably a 2D array of pinpoint white LEDs that were behind a plastic diffuser panel) and I couldn’t look at it because the pain was so severe. However, I largely ignored these issues and attibuted them to my “migraine brain.” I’ve periodically gotten hormone-change associated migraines since puberty and those migraines tend to come with sensitivity to any bright lights. I had never had light sensitivity before without having a migraine. This LED sensitivity was unusual because I didn’t have a migraine when experiencing it and it was more sharply painful than my migraine-associated light sensitivity.
I teach and this school year I had to move to a newly-renovated floor where they had installed very bright custom-built LED lights consisting of long lines of pinpoint LEDs, with an LED pinpoint light coming about every centimeter or so. The fixtures have a diffuser panel covering the actual LEDs. The lights are extra bright because the architects decided to not install a drop ceiling to give the space an industrial look, so the lights need to be extra bright to compensate for a lack of light reflecting off of the nonexistent ceiling. The lights use PWM and at full intensity the flicker rate is supposed to be several hundred Hz. I don’t know if it’s the intensity, the flicker, the blue color, or some other aspect of the lights, but they’re immediately painful (pain behind the eyes) and they have triggered severe migraines that are different from my normal migraines.
My normal hormone-related migraines cause pounding pain on the left side of my head that worsens if I move, comes with nausea and vomiting and light sensitivity (to any light), and resolves after several hours. I’ve never noticed any signs of aura with these migraines. The symptoms are so severe that I can’t function. Luckiy, I can prevent almost all of these symptoms by taking Advil at the first sign, although sometimes I still experience minor light sensitivity and fatigue. Due to Advil and luck, I’ve never missed work due to a migraine. Testing by a neurologist when I was a child ruled out other potential problems besides migraines.
Testing in the last month by a neurologist, a neuroopthamologist, and an MRI have ruled out other problems now other than migraines. The neuroopthamologist confirmed my corrected vision is still 20/20 (I am very severely nearsighted -8).
The LED light migraines cause constant (non-pounding) pain on the right side of my head and it isn’t worsened if I move. The pain is “moderate” in that I can fake my way through normal activities to some degree. I experience increased light sensitivity to LED lights. Sunlight and bright incandescent lights don’t bother me at all. It becomes more painful than normal to see LED headlights, LED store lights, or the LED lights under scaffolding over sidewalks throughout New York. I experience minor pain when exposed to any lights that flicker slowly enough to be detected with a fidget spinner (the pattern appearing to spin in both directions due to the flicker) - these lights do not cause pain for me normally. [Note that the awful workplace LEDs triggering my migraines flicker much more quickly than can be detected with a fidget spinner]. The migraine also causes nausea which is severe enough that I don’t feel like eating, but hasn’t yet caused vomiting. Perhaps the most difficult part of the migraine is that it severely decreases my short-term memory/processing skills. I notice a general “fuzziness” of thinking, and somewhat more objectively, when grading papers I have difficulty remembering what a student wrote a couple sentences before in short answer responses. I have trouble tallying points on a page with several numbers. Both of these tasks had been fairly effortless for me in the past and are still effortless now if I’m not experiencing a migraine. I also experienced severe mental and physical fatigue. I was essentially winging teaching all of my classes because I couldn’t manage to do prep work. I also noticed occasional blurriness in one eye that seemed to come and go and was most often present when I woke up in the morning, but then would go away.
At the beginning of this school year, there was no way to turn off the overhead LEDs because the construction hadn’t been completed and the light switches hadn’t been connected, so the lights stayed on 24/7. I also delayed taking measures like wearing sunglasses for a while because I wanted to avoid putting distance between myself and my new students. However, after a few weeks I started wearing a hat, dark sunglasses, and would flip the circuit breaker to get most of the LEDs out (an “emergency” LED light would stay on). It would take multiple days out of the school building before I would start to feel anything close to normal. Processing deficits and fatigue would last for days. Since December, the light switches were connected, so I’ve kept the LEDs off in the classroom, had incandescents brought in, and I minimize my time in the hallways where I wear the hat and dark glasses. By doing this, I’ve gotten rid of the migraines and my processing skils have returned to normal, but I still have screen issues (see below). Things that I tried to prevent the LED migraines:
-Dimming overhead LEDs (doesn’t work) - sometimes it seemed like symptoms were worse (not surprising considering what I now know about PMW). Sometimes it seemed like symptoms were less severe. I’m not sure whether it’s better or worse, but it’s definitely insufficient.
-Hat - blocking directly looking at the lights definitely helps, but is insufficient.
-Hat and normal amber sunglasses. They help (better than the hat alone), but are insufficient.
-Hat and Uvex SCT-orange glasses. These glasses block all blue light (I have them for DNA work) and block about the same range as “migraine” glasses like theraspecs. They had a similar effect as the normal sunglasses - They help (better than the hat alone), but are insufficient.
-Hat and UVEX Shade 5 glasses. These welding glasses block all but 2% of light, including in the blue range. The LED lights on our floor are so intense that things still look fairly normal with these on in terms of brightness (other than them creating a limited color palette). The combination of these glasses and the hat have allowed me to endure brief times in the hallways without triggering a migraine. I can still barely feel the pain-behind-the-eyes sensation with them on, so I never stay in the hallway for long these days.
The neuroopthamologist I saw was in a newly-renovated building. I suspected that the lights might have been bad (although not as intense or immediately painful as the lights at my school). I went through that visit without sunglasses, felt like I might be staring on an LED-migraine toward the end of the visit, and did indeed have an LED-migraine by the time I got home, which then lasted 8 days (symptoms varying on different days, but gradually becoming a bit better each day). Interestingly to me in retrospect, and concerning at the time, the visual field test showed a significant peripheral blind area in my right eye during that visit. I went back a week later to repeat that test and have more tests (the blind area made him worry about possible glaucoma). On the second visit I wore my hat and Shade 5 glasses, covered my eyes with my hands while waiting, and asked them to turn out the lights whenever possible with the intent of not triggering a new migraine (although I was still at the tail end of the old one and had very minor pain behind my eye still). The visual field test was normal this time (no glaucoma!). I didn’t get a new migraine. I asked the neuroopthamologist if he thought the blind area might have been evidence of migraine aura the first time. He wouldn’t commit one way or the other due to the subjectivity of the test. Since I’ve experienced occasional unexplained vision blurriness with these migraines, I wonder if it really could have been evidence of aura in the early stages of a migraine.
Some stores with new overhead LED lighting or new LED panels also have similar effects for me and I need to minimize my time in them or wear dark glasses.
I had never noticed an issue in the past with household lamp LEDs or overhead fluorescent tube lights, but when having and following the LED migraines, these are now a little painful and I’ve gotten non-migraine headaches from hours of exposure to overhead fluorescent tube lights. I got rid of the one dim, rarely-used LED bulb I had in my apartment when my problems started. I’ve avoided household LED exposure in other apartments (turning them off when they started to bother me at my sister's), so haven’t really tested its long-term effects.
I’ve started having issues with monitors that have seemed to have started at about the same time I started having problems with LED lighting, although I can’t be completely sure of the timing because maybe the LED migraines just made me more aware of the screen issues. Regardless of the timing, I know that the screen issues cause some of the same symptoms as the LED migraines, just less severely. These are pain/pressure behind my right eye that feels exactly the same as the LED-migraine pain. It starts as a very subtle feeling that builds to be worse the longer I use the screen. Scrolling or reading rapidly seem to make it worse. When it becomes more severe, it can have some nausea.
I’ve tried to research LED lights from a medical perspective, including communicating with a world-expert on the biological effects of lighting, but there have not yet been any actual research studies on the effects of LED lights on humans. Talking to neuroscientists, it sounds like fMRI studies are needed and that what is needed would be too involved to tack onto some other study. Apparently time on fMRI machines is also hard to come by. Funding and initiative to study this is needed and it isn’t going to be coming from the lighting industry.
I’m curious about how many other people have similar issues with LED lights. I was pleased to find this forum because what many of you are describing with monitor issues are very similar to the monitor issues I’ve recently experienced that seem linked to my LED lighting issues. As the industrial-style LED lights get put into more buildings, I wonder how many people will find that they are affected? I’m particularly concerned that vulnerable populations without a voice in society may bear the brunt of the problem - including school children and people without the ability to change the lighting in their workplace. For example, at my school, all of the administrators have opted to use non-LED lights in their offices because they don’t “like” the LEDs, but the students don’t have that choice. I know the LEDs reduce my processing skills - could they be affecting the children too? We have no idea because no one has done the studies.
I’m also glad to find this forum because I need to find a monitor solution for myself so I can keep working effectively - it’s nice to learn that it isn’t an issue with all monitors for everyone. For reference, I used a white MacBook 2007 A1181 laptop to write a textbook in the 2011/2012 school year and had no issues even though I spent every single free moment on it writing and drawing figures. Between then and this year, I didn’t specifically notice monitor issues, but I wasn’t using a laptop nearly as intensely and I now wonder in retrospect if screens may have contributed to a moderate increase in what I thought were early migraine symptoms in recent years, but might in retrospect have been monitor effects. This August and into the beginning of the school year, I spent significant time on my current laptop (2015 MacBook Air running OS 10.11.6) revising and formatting my textbook for publication. I started to notice the pain from monitor usage then. However, I noticed it during/after my first significant LED migraine. I have an iPhone SE and sometimes screen time on the phone also bothers me, but I haven’t been careful enough about analyzing it yet in terms of figuring out if it’s only when I have a migraine, or also when I don’t have a migraine since the pain caused by screen usage tends not to start immediately for me. The old 2007 MacBook is without a battery, but after reading this forum, I might try to resurrect it.
I’d like to do something to help push for some actually studies of the effects of LED lights on the brain. As far as I can tell from my connections in the medical and research worlds, this won’t happen without significant funding for a real study and a researcher willing to do it. Other than “contacting my congressperson” does anyone have ideas of how to make this happen? Does anyone know of anyone collecting data about the prevalence of people who have these issues? The increasing marketing of “eye-care” anti-flicker screens and blue blocker glasses suggests that there might be a problem of a significant size that might become even more apparent as industrial-style LED lighting makes its way into more workplaces if there is in fact a connection.