Fluorescent lighting is populari in today's ecologically conscious world. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) use a fraction of the energy of older incandescent lights and help to reduce electricity costs. Some governments have even banned incandescent lighting because of the myriad of benefits seen by using CFLs. However, some potential health effects of fluorescent lighting have emerged, including fuzzy vision and other visual stresses.
Photophobia, which is a heightened sensitivity to light, can be caused or worsened by exposure to fluorescent light. Photophobia can result in blurry vision, discomfort and headaches. Because fluorescent light shines brighter and illuminates more than incandescent light, extended exposure becomes more likely to cause or contribute to photophobia. Some sufferers wear sunglasses or other specialised lenses when around fluorescent light.
Migraine headaches commonly present with extreme light sensitivity and blurry vision and can be triggered by fluorescent light. To make matters worse, fluorescent light shines brighter than incandescent light and emits blue light at the high end of the visible spectrum. According to Dr. Cosmo Salibello, blue light has shorter wavelengths and becomes more stressful for the eyes to focus upon. This can cause fluorescent light to be painful or distorted to migraine sufferers.
Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
All LCD computer monitors and most laptop monitors have fluorescent lighting. When you stare at a computer monitor for too long, you can develop fuzzy vision and headache, otherwise known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). The visual stress occurs because of a subtle flickering of light on monitor screens. Though it's too fast to consciously perceive, the flicker can cause eye strain. All fluorescent bulbs flicker in this manner. Specialised computer glasses can be purchased to filter out the higher wavelengths of light and to reduce visual stress.
Also called scotopic sensitivity syndrome, Irlen syndrome does not affect the eyes but instead consists of a problem with the visual perception centre of the brain. Reading becomes impossible underneath fluorescent light, as words often appear to melt together and become unreadable. Fluorescent light aggravates symptoms that also include lethargy, eye strain and other visual problems. Sufferers use coloured overlays or glasses to filter out the painful wavelengths of light and usually avoid all fluorescent lighting whenever possible.
The Banning of Incandescent Lightbulbs
A recent trend toward the banning of incandescent light bulbs, as seen in Australia, has activists scrambling to educate the public at large about the potential visual and health dangers of fluorescent lighting. Some organisations have petitioned their governments for opt-out programs for those who suffer from any condition aggravated by fluorescent light, such as those mentioned here. Research continues on the effects of fluorescent light on visual problems as the move toward a complete switchover to CFLs continues.