Are LEDs OK?

I’d be getting rich by now if I had a penny for every time someone says: “Hey don’t worry, CFLs are on their way out anyway…technology’s moving on: LEDs are the future!” LED LED2 Even more often I’m asked: “Are LEDs ok?” My answer is both yes and no. Yes, for me, for now – if I’m coming to your house for a cuppa, or going to the hairdressers, or getting the train to London, I’ll be fine. Some really bright ones make me feel nauseous and a bit weird, but I’m not aware of any lasting effects. I know I’m lucky, and that this may change, three years ago I was ‘ok’ with CFLs, now I’m debilitated by them. But in the bigger picture ‘are LEDs ok?’ the answer is a resounding ‘No!”. No times two. The first ‘No’ is because others are not ok with them, they also make people seriously ill with symptoms including blinding headaches, severe eye pain, nausea and migraine. The most frequent response I get to this blog is ‘it’s not just CFLs that make people ill’. This one, from Elaine in Ireland, hit me hard:

Hi Anna,

I read your blog on the trouble with CFL lighting. I am extremely sensitive to LED lighting both indoor and outdoor. They have been erected outside my home and now I can’t even step in to my own front garden without symptoms of severe eye pain, migraine, nausea, vomiting, aura, vertigo, increased heart rate and ringing in my ears. It hits me immediately and the severity and length of symptoms depend on the length of time I’m exposed. 
I have known for 7 or 8 years of this extreme intolerance to LED when I first got a DS Lite, back-lit with LED and I couldn’t bare to look at it. I can’t use any LED backlit phones or monitors. I don’t think that my symptoms are getting worse but my recovery period is now non existent because LED is everywhere. If I am round CFL for a prolonged period I develop headache and agitation but nothing like the symptoms I have around LED.

I am in the process of writing to our MPs, TDs, Health Service, local newspapers etc etc here in Ireland to see if something can be done about this.
It was good to read your article, I don’t wish this on anyone but it helps to know I’m not alone. I found it so hard to find info a number of years ago but the further we move away from the incandescent bulb the higher the number rises of light sensitive people. Hope and pray that this gets resolved in our lifetime. I am a 35 year old living the life of an isolated 85 year old.  
Take care, Elaine imprisoned The second ‘No’ because senior medics have raised serious concerns about the effects of LEDs on human health, especially on eyes, skin and sleep. Many scientific studies already show that LEDs are implicated in the current epidemic of sleeping problems, particularly among young people who spend many evening hours exposed to LED-lit screens. Here are a few that I’ve come across, trawl the web and you’ll find many more:–-light-emitting-diodes
insomnia What I’m grasping from my Googling and browsing is that blue light in LEDs disrupts the body’s ‘circadian rhythm’, or body clock, which regulates sleep by telling the body to wake up in the morning and wind down in the evening. And the circadian rhythm is not just about sleep but the many, many physiological processes which are supposed to happen while we sleep, such as cell renewal and blood sugar regulation, so there are wider implications for cancer and diabetes and many more health issues. This technology is so new, I wonder if any studies have gone on long enough to really understand the long-term implications of new forms of lighting on human health?

And what about other new light forms? Are they ok? There are so many different lights around now and so much confusion. Most public places have a complete mix of lighting and so few can tell you what they have – it’s just not a vocabulary that people have yet.

The issues raised in this blog apply to all new forms of lighting. There may be differences in technology – different ‘temperatures’, flickers, percentage of blue light, etc – but the moral issues are the same. This is a major issue of social exclusion and surely an infringement of basic human rights. I read Elaine’s message and felt a searing sense of the injustice of this situation, and incredulous that new lighting is still perceived as ‘good’ and ‘green’. How is it morally defensible to enforce a technology onto people that makes them so ill? If LEDs are the future, what future do people like Elaine have? What happens to people’s lives if we use this light for offices, for shops, for churches, for public transport, for petrol stations, for streetlights…? How can people shop, visit friends, travel, work, study…even sleep?

There may be differences in technology… but the moral issues are the same. This is a major issue of social exclusion and surely an infringement of basic human rights.


I’ve been heartened in recent weeks by comments from friends and family on a UK petition calling for a review of the health and environmental impact of new lighting and to overturn the absolute ban on incandescent lightbulbs. (Please sign if you’re in the UK!)
One friend shared the petition on Facebook with a simple message that says it all:
“…easy to ignore if it doesn’t affect you, but imagine if it did…”


4 thoughts on “Are LEDs OK?

  1. It’s actually not possible for people to react differently to LED lighting and CFLs–because LED lights ARE CFLs. CFLs work by exciting mercury to emit UV light that phosphor converts into visibly white light.

    LED lights cannot emit “white” light because they emit only one frequency of light. To get around this problem, “White” LED lights are actually UV LED lights that emit one frequency in the UV range. A phosphor coating on the inside of the light performs the same function as in a CFL–to convert the UV light from the LED to white light–and produces light with the same uneven spectrum and flickering as CFL lights. There is no measurable difference in emitted spectrum–including UV pollution–between coated LED and CFL lighting because they are both technically fluorescent lighting.

    So what you’re saying in this post is that you are sensitive to only the fluorescents you know are fluorescents, and are less sensitive to fluorescents you don’t know are fluorescents.

    I don’t mean to be mean. I really don’t. I don’t know what else to say, but the difference in sensitivity you’re describing here is impossible because all the lights you’re talking about are all CFLs–you just didn’t know the ones you “reacted less” to were also CFLs until now.


  2. Pingback: LED Update | Greenwashing Lamps

  3. I received this comment this morning from Clea at
    The city has been installing LED street lights in our area. The one road I drive for five minuets to get home at night has become covered with LED’s. Last night after work I drove down that road – what used to be a sweet little road beside a quiet park. Driving under the lights, the searing pain went deep into my head. My mind felt like it went into shock. Like a mollusk when poked, my mind felt like it went into deep contraction. I felt like I was in a microwave oven. I felt fried. The pain actually increased over the subsequent hours.. and now.. twenty four hours later is subsiding, but it feels like the spasm could be re triggered more easily, even now as I am looking at my computer screen, the light is bothering that part that feels wounded – my computer doesn’t normally bother me. OMG .. I don’t know how I am going to get home from work.


  4. IGood article Anna – I wholeheartedly agree with you. I get giddy / dizzy and get a bad headache very quickly beneath LED Street Lighting as I drive back home after work – not very safe. – and then there are all those new terribly bright icey white car headlights that literally blind me and make my skin crawl. I am angry this evening as LED lighting has now officially arrived in my town. There is a street light just outside my daughter’s window – and she is light sensitive too – I will fight this and not give up. I will do whatever I need to do to stop this intrusion and gross violation of human rights! Soon I will not be able to walk the streets at night where I live as this madness continues or even travel by car without getting ill. I have just come back from the Sandy Balls holiday resort in the New Forest and got the worst migraines for a long time (within minutes) by just using the ablution blocks – they have just switched to LED tube lighting (they are incredibly icey-white bright and the invisible strobe light flicker that I now have hard video evidence of is something quite startling). I ended up by having to use a toilet right at the other end of the resort which hasn’t had the lighting switched yet, a shower at another facility with tinted swimming goggles on (lol), and use the outside kitchen facilities to wash my face and brush my teeth. The migraines ruined that holiday. As they continue rolling out the new LED tube lighting I will not be able to return to that place that once held really good memories. This new lighting is hurting me badly and ruining my quality of life! What does the future hold I wonder?! See you on Facebook.


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