Fluorescent lighting in schools is more than just an irritation – it can be a serious issue for those with autism, epilepsy and migraine sufferers.
Apart from flickering seen in fluorescent lamps with magnetic ballasts, according to the US Department of Energy these have also been linked to a wide range of conditions such as:
- blurred vision
- reduced performance
Given that fluorescent tube lighting in general is associated with negative physical effects, it makes sense to minimise or remove flicker when lighting classrooms and other school buildings by choosing well-manufactured LED lighting from trusted brands.
But it is important to work with an expert lighting provider to survey and source the most suitable quality products – there are reports of some budget LED tube lights emitting flicker due to the poor quality of the ballasts.
Lighting for children
While more recent types of fluorescent tubes have reduced flicker, all emit a flicker that could trigger a seizure in those affected by photosensitive epilepsy and have effects on the behaviour of children with autism.
The issue of flicker is complex as many fluorescent tube manufacturers insist that their products have removed the problem. For some medical experts, the issue is still there, even if the tubes do not visibly appear to flicker.
Colour spectrum “spiky”
Looking at the colour spectrum of fluorescent light, it can be easily classified as “spiky”, with the strongest spikes in the ultra-violet, blue, yellow, orange and red regions.
There is some data that indicates the particular colour spiking properties of fluorescent lights can confuse the brain and affect its ability to correctly process colours.
This could affect those with autism and other neurological conditions, with research suggesting that the colour spiking triggers erratic constriction/dilation of the pupils that agitate the brain.
Photosensitive epilepsy is a condition where flickering or flashing light triggers a seizure. The condition is most commonly identified first between the ages of 7-19.
Mains-powered fluorescent lighting has a flicker rate of 100-120Hz but any faulty tube could be a problem by emitting a lower rate flicker, so the potential hazard is always present as tubes and ballasts degrade over time.
In contrast, LED tubes from quality manufacturers not only have a very long working life, they also will not flicker at any point during their lifecycle.
The Migraine Trust advises that while 70% of school children suffer a headache at least once a year, one in four have recurrent headaches and around one in 10 have migraines.
The effect of fluorescent lighting is highlighted in The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. A patient, Carolyn describes her reaction: “With fluorescent lights it’s not only the glare that gets me, it’s the flicker as well. It produces shadows in my vision (which were very scary when I was young) and long exposure can lead to confusion and dizziness often resulting in migraines.”
It is also suggested that migraine sufferers become sensitised to fluorescent lighting, sometimes after an attack, and so are more prone to be affected by worrying about the potential trigger.
LED flicker and colour temperature
The technology of LED lighting means that there is a very rapid, continual on-off cycle, but well-manufactured lamps and fittings with good quality drivers ensure that this “pulsing” is undetectable with no harmful effects on health or wellbeing.
The Society of Light advises that those in procurement need to include low flicker requirements in their specifications, and all specifiers need to be aware that if LED products are substituted by contractors or suppliers then flicker needs to be considered.
Blue light can mimic daylight and confuse the brains of humans and animals into delaying melatonin production, potentially disrupting the sleep and the circadian cycle’. A report from Public Health England advise that designers should avoid LEDs with a high Correlated Colour Temperature (CCT).
Colour temperature (CT) is a measure of the spectral content of light from a source; how much blue, green, yellow and red there is in it. A higher CT rating generally means greater blue content, and the whiter the light appears.
There is no doubt that LED lighting has significant positive effects on a person’s health and wellbeing. If you are responsible for the lighting in a school, you should seriously consider moving to LED if you haven’t already.
We have completed many projects in schools and have put together many case studies that explain the savings schools have made, as well as the benefits to the children and staff.