Why Do Fluorescent Lights Make You Feel Weird?

Reviewed and updated for 2024 by Molly Duong, M.D.

So- you started working full-time in an office a few weeks ago. Just as you are getting acclimated to your new job, you start  experiencing increasing problems with blurred vision (defined as episodes of impaired vision for over 20 minutes at a time) and headaches (usually lasting greater than an hour).

Some days are worse than others, and  those days come with feeling drained with heightened anxiety levels, disorientation, and confusion.

If you suspect that these symptoms may be triggered by fluorescent lighting in the office, you may be right. Lighting conditions are known to influence how people feel, and some known effects include light sensitivity, eye strain, migraine attacks, and/or other chronic health conditions.

Here, we take a closer look at why fluorescent lights can make you feel dizzy, anxious, sick, and generally uncomfortable.

Can fluorescent lights make you feel sick?

Natural light contains and radiates full-spectrum colors with equal intensity. As such, your exposure to sunlight helps regulate:

  • Sleep cycle
  • Moods and emotions
  • Processing of essential vitamins

Fluorescent light, on the light spectrum, disburses only a limited range of visible light. Although it has vastly changed society by allowing us the option of having light throughout the night, it is also a double edged sword. Prolonged exposure to this artificial light has been shown to  negatively impact your health and overall wellbeing.

A 2011 study hypothesized that some fluorescent lights emit UV radiation that can be harmful to the eyes. Consequently, this increases the risk of UV-related eye diseases by 12%.

Conventional fluorescent lighting is also linked to reduced productivity and alertness, increased physical and mental fatigue, and even moodiness and negative emotions.

Experts also acknowledge that fluorescent lights can make people feel dizzy, especially among older fixtures that produce lower flickering rates. All fluorescent lights produce some form of flicker, although this flicker usually occurs too rapidly for us to perceive. Despite still being fast, flickering in the lower ranges can still cause discomfort. Prolonged exposure to such rates have been  shown to disrupt your sleep cycle, increasing the risk of sleep-related health problems. Also, anxiety and bright lights appear to be closely linked. Super bright, long cylindrical lights have been noted to increase  anxiety attacks in those with generalized anxiety disorder.

Exposure to fluorescent light can also cause the following: 

Headaches or migraine attacks

Bright indoor lights are likely to trigger migraine attacks for people with headache disorders, such as vestibular migraine or cluster headache.

Over 50% of people with migraines are prone to such attacks when exposed to fluorescent light. A study found that approximately 85% of migraine attacks in those  with chronic headaches and photophobia are triggered by fluorescent light.

The general population (normally unaffected by migraines)is still not entirely immune to fluorescent-induced headaches. In one study, office workers exposed to fluorescent lighting had 2X more headaches episodes than those exposed to more natural lighting.

Eye problems

Most are probably already familiar with the immediate ocular symptoms when overexposed to uncomfortable stimuli: watery eyes, photophobia, excessive squinting, and ocular strain. Most are unaware, however, that there is now some evidence showing that fluorescent lighting can be harmful to your eyes in the long haul.

According to Australian researchers, the UV radiation emitted by fluorescent lights can lead to a 12% increase in eye diseases, such as cataracts.Some physicians have also theorized that fluorescent lighting can stimulate myopia, or contribute to retinal damage. Though further research is needed, children who played outdoors more frequently and were exposed to a lot of natural light have been shown to have less myopic progression compared to kids who stayed indoors more, regardless of the amount of near activities done.

Furthermore, individuals with dry eye, ocular allergies, and other inherent eye conditions are often more sensitive to artificial light. But even in the absence  of medical diagnoses, fluorescent lighting can arouse the central nervous system—leading to visual stress, eye discomfort, and diminished reading proficiency.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

chronic fatigue syndrome words printed on a book page

According to some experts, just 6 hours of exposure to artificial light is enough to impair your cells’ ability to produce energy efficiently. This rate of production also decreases as the duration of exposure increases.

With less energy in the body, you’re likely to feel drained.

Besides contributing to fatigue-induced glare, fluorescent lights have been shown to:

  • Trigger autoimmune conditions
  • Slow down metabolism
  • Disrupt the immune system
  • Disrupt menstrual cycles
  • Interfere with focus and concentration
  • Contribute to skin aging
  • Increase the risk of skin cancer
  • Trigger anxiety

Can you be sensitive to fluorescent lights?

Do you often feel strange or uncomfortable even after a mild exposure to artificial light? If so, there is a possibility you may have a sensitivity towards them.  Some signs and symptoms to look out for include: :

  • Eyestrain
  • Eye pain 
  • Impaired or blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath

Note: some symptoms may manifest within a few minutes of exposure while others may manifest slowly after several weeks to months. It is important to note that these symptoms can overlap with other, more serious causes, and to follow up with your doctor if you are experiencing any to rule out potential medical concerns. 

Light sensitivity can be attributed to several factors:

  1. Dominance of fluorescent lighting in schools, offices, and public places For decades, fluorescent lights were deemed an efficient way to light buildings. It was even assumed to be similar to natural sunlight, which is why most buildings include them as part of their main lighting. Besides lighting, fluorescent light is also used in computers, smartphones, and other electronics, further increasing its presence and subsequent health concerns.
  2. Underlying health conditions. For example, people with migraines are more likely to experience light sensitivity than people without migraines. 90% of people with autism  self-report fluorescence as a trigger to their sensory stress.  The same goes for people with a history of concussion or traumatic brain injuries (TBI). There has been an increase of self-reporting discomfort towards fluorescence among this population as well.

Light sensitivity can be exacerbated  by having these comorbidities:

  • Migraine
  • Tension-type headache
  • Cluster headache
  • New daily persistent headache
  • Traumatic brain injuries or concussions
  • Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias

Furthermore, light sensitivity can result from other variables of fluorescent lighting- and the tolerance of such varies from person to person. Some variables include:

  • High amount of blue light levels
  • Overall brightness
  • Low-frequency flicker rate

Do fluorescent lights affect the brain?

Fluorescent lights emit subliminal flickers, which can send chaotic signals to the brain. That in turn, can fire a chain reaction of neurological responses or nervous system events such as tics, seizures, or migraines.

Do fluorescent lights cause dizziness?

While there is no definitive correlation thus far, some researchers hypothesize that fluorescence can indeed cause dizziness.

One theory revolves around the lighting’s overall brightness, in which  high-intensity lights trigger dizzy spells in people with chronic light sensitivity, following their lower threshold to light.

Color also plays a role. For instance, blue light is more likely to trigger dizziness and other chronic conditions than other visible light colors. The fact that blue light wavelengths are emitted by many light sources only serves to make its effects more prevalent.

The inherent flicker rate in fluorescents can also cause dizziness.

Auxiliary factors such as intense focusing and eye strain can also trigger dizziness. Those with a history of TBI, focusing issues, or even being in an older age group tend to be more susceptible. 

Do fluorescent lights cause anxiety?

Researchers cite fluorescent lights as having high potential to trigger panic attacks. More studies have supported this claim, revealing that exposure to fluorescence can lead to  unwanted physiological effects such as elevated heart rate and negative emotions.

Evidence shows that exposure to artificial light—particularly at night—can affect mood and behavior regulation. The reason is because  fluorescent lights disrupt your circadian rhythm by delaying the production of melatonin. A disrupted circadian rhythm cannot efficiently regulate your moods, emotions, or even hormone production. It’s no wonder studies have shown that  night shift workers experience more depression-like episodes than their daytime counterparts.

Blue light wavelengths, as present in fluorescent lights, are also known to disrupt sleep patterns. This can further contribute to anxiety, feelings of panic, and other mood disorders.

Can LED lights cause dizziness?

As mentioned in the previous section, the flicker rate in fluorescent lights can cause dizziness. This effect becomes greater when the flicker rate is lower.

The flicker rate of LED lights  is more pronounced than in fluorescent lights dimming by 100% as opposed to 35% in fluorescents. Thus, LED lights may be more likely to cause dizziness and other chronic conditions than fluorescent lights.

According to Professor Arnold Wilkins, a professor of psychology at the University of Essex,

“People exposed to LED lights can start feeling dizzy and ill within 20 minutes’ exposure.” 

He attributes that to the quick flickering of LED bulbs. Wilkins continues ,

“Because they are digital, LEDs quickly turn on and off hundreds of times a second. This flutter causes our brains to work harder, disrupts the movement of your eyes, and can cause headaches, dizziness, and even nausea.”

Fortunately, there are standards for LEDs that limit flickering to acceptable levels. This provides consumers some level of control  to ensure that their LED lights meet these standards.The coloremitted by these lights is also concerning. Unlike natural daylight, LEDs emit higher amounts of blue light which may affect health in many ways. So, while LED lights significantly reduce energy bills, they can substantially increase medical bills thanks to LED-induced chronic conditions, such as dizziness. See our LED light covers for solutions that may help in your workplace.

How can you make fluorescent light more natural?

If you are battling with blurry vision, dizziness, or even fatigue at work, it’s time to transform the unforgiving, uncomfortable lights in the office.

Fortunately, the solutions are simple-You can start by installing affordable yet durable fluorescent light filters.

When evaluating your options, find a cover/filter that:

  • Softens the fluorescent light
  • Transforms light from a narrow spectrum to full-spectrum visible light
  • Eliminates obvious glare
  • Is affordable, durable, and easy to install

By removing glare, the fluorescent light filters help reduce eye strain, headaches, and fatigue. They also  block excessive and potentially harmful UV radiation, preventing skin damage and fading of materials.

And by transforming lights with a limited color spectrum to full white light, these filters help improve focus, mood, and stabilization of sleep cycle.

For best results, select filters that fit your existing fluorescents or LED lights. After all, fixtures flushed to the ceiling will require different covers than the standard 4 inch’ fluorescent bulbs’.

In the case of LED bulbs, anti-glare covers may be effective. Operating  lamps in a direct as opposed to alternating current may also work, though you should keep in mind that this option involves expensive and short-lived componentsYour other option is to buy lamps that meet the set LED standards, ensuring their flickering rate is within the recommended limit.

About Dr. Molly Duong

Dr. Molly Duong is a therapeutic and glaucoma certified optometrist. She obtained her doctorate degree at the University of California Berkeley, School of Optometry, and graduated with Honors in Research. Upon graduation, she completed a residency at the Major Charles Robert Soltes Jr. Blind Rehabilitation Center located at VA Long Beach, gaining expertise in primary care, low vision, and traumatic brain injury cases.

She is passionate about expanding innovations in technology and medical devices to improve vision care, and is always looking to build her professional acumen. On top of patient care, she also works in medical writing for ophthalmic trade articles and blogs, as well as consulting for a new vision-based web application in development.
















6 thoughts on “Why Do Fluorescent Lights Make You Feel Weird?”

  1. I suffered a detached vitreous years ago and as I recuperated noticed my vision was deeply affected by the flashing lights in TV commercials and by movement of objects such as cars passing me on city streets. I felt dizzy, shaky and anxious and also when I spent time under flourescent lighting in stores. Years passed, my eye healed, but whenever I go into a supermarket or large store lit by flourescent lighting I am hit again with the symptoms above. I try to remember to wear some very strong sunglasses in these stores to alleviate my discomfort. I often wonder if others experience flourescent sensitivity.

    • Yes, Lynn I am very against fluorescent lighting as well. I wait tables and the light to dark and dark to light that is unfortunately part of my job has been very damaging physically, emotionally and mentally. Maybe more inexpensive way to light a room or a building, but very damaging. Not a fan at all. Trying to get my job to change these out and save us all from the pain that they bring

  2. There is nothing easy about fitting fluorescent light filters at work. Some places take 6 months to get you a new mouse!

  3. I go into A large store and I get so dizzy and nauseous, my heart rate goes up and I get very anxious. I didn’t notice these happenings until I got a concussion about 8 years ago. Now the longer I stay in a store the worse it gets. It takes me a couple of days to get over it. And only 20 minutes to make me sick. Literally. I’ve noticed if I move my eyes really fast, like looking for something in the store. I immediately start the dizziness and nausea. I get anxious because I’m afraid I’m going to throw up before I get out of the store. Sometimes I do. Even typing this makes me a little nauseous. I can’t afford those glasses they say you can get to help. Plus I already wear glasses. Can I get a filter on my actual glasses?

    • Hi Debra – Sorry to hear that you get that effect from indoor lighting. I wish more stores and public places considered lighting when designing a building. Retail stores love bright lights, unfortunately.


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