Is it just me, or are fluorescent lamps getting a bad rap?

Sure their T12’s aren’t pulling their weight in the efficiency game, and it’s true that CFLs do contain trace amounts of mercury (FYI—there’s more mercury in your tuna fish sandwich than your CFL so you can breathe easy) but now they’re charged with workplace migraines?

Let’s clear the air.

When it comes to your work environment, there can be any number of triggers to set off a migraine: incessant phone calls, hours of paperwork, and the endless pit of meeting requests. Stress City, Population: You. If all of these forces are working against you, can your office lighting really be to blame?

Yes and No.

We know that fluorescent lamps produce light much differently than incandescents, thus making them better managers of energy efficiency. Unlike incandescents that require a metal filament to heat up, fluorescent lamps use a chemical reaction to produce light. Fluorescent lamps contain a gas which produces visible UV light when excited by electricity. When the UV light hits the phosphorus coating lined inside the tube the coating transforms it into light we can see. Also unlike incandescents, fluorescent lamps require ballasts to not only supply the initial electric current, but to regulate that current so the right amount of light is emitted.

There are two types of ballasts that work with fluorescent systems: magnetic and electronic. The problem with magnetic ballasts (specifically older ones) is their operating frequencies are much slower than electronic, with a frequency rate of 60 cycles per second (60 Hz). At that speed, the human eye is able to perceive this frequency, resulting in a noticeable flicker of the lamp. With newer electronic ballasts, the frequency is bumped up to 20,000 – 40,000 Hz and far beyond human perception.

Is it the flicker that causes those workplace migraines? Dr. Andrew Hershey, director of the headache center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center isn’t convinced. He says there isn’t enough evidence to support the common belief that all fluorescent lamps contribute to headaches.

Patients with migraines are photophobic (more sensitive to light) even when they don’t have a headache, compared to non-migraineurs, thus being exposed to bright lights when hyper sensitized may push the patient over the edge.

Although people are convinced that fluorescents are to blame for their mid-day migraines, Hershey suspects that it may just be light in general that is the problem, and that the fluorescents just happen to be the type of lighting used in the office.

While the jury may still be out on whether or not the flickering of a fluorescent truly causes migraines, or it’s just hyper sensitivity to light, a flickering lamp can still have a negative impact on your employees and the overall workplace environment. Swapping out your old lamps for new, more energy efficient T8’s can eliminate your flicker, especially when paired with a monthly maintenance plan.

To read Dr. Hershey’s full article in the NY Times, please visit:

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Jacy Everett
Director of Business Development
(800) 544-4836