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Flicker Illness

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 21 Sep 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Flicker Illness Headaches Sunshine Sunny

For those who suffer from headaches they may also experience accompanying symptoms which only increase their pain and discomfort. Trying to determine the cause of headaches can be one of the most difficult aspects of understanding your pain and subsequently treating it. If your headaches are occurring alongside symptoms such as nausea and dizziness it is possible that you are suffering from flicker illness.

What Causes Flicker Illness?

The culprit implicated in flicker illness is actually one that is benign to most of us. Flicker illness is triggered by just what the name implies - flickering lights. This could be anything from sunlight flickering on water to the flickering light on a building railing or wall. The term itself is a new one and was created by researchers from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York. While the symptoms may mimic those of motion sickness - painful headaches, nausea and vertigo they can also involve more extreme ones of seizures, which tends to occur in patients with photosensitive epilepsy.

What Sources of Light Trigger Flicker Illness?

In fact, one recent report found that light flowing through the fast-moving helicopter blades when patients were medically transported to hospitals caused the symptoms of flicker illness. Although this is a very specific example of flicker illness that doesn't apply to most people, others may find that a simple day outside is interrupted by the headaches and nausea that result from the flickering sunlight.

Other triggers include strobe lights, which are commonly found at nightclubs and concerts. It has been known for some time that strobe lights can trigger epileptic seizures but it is more recently that flickering lights have been implicated in headaches and related symptoms in otherwise healthy individuals. It can be difficult to pinpoint flicker illness as the cause, which is partly due to it being poorly recognised.

Even flickering lights on a television or in video games can trigger the symptoms of flicker illness. If you find that you repeatedly suffer from headaches only when playing specific video games, it is worth taking a break to see if the headaches subside. For those who suffer from flicker illness due to otherwise benign triggers such as sunlight in the trees when driving, over-the-counter pain relievers may be used as a temporary measure to offer some relief. Some individuals might also find that wearing a hat with a wide rim helps to offset the glare from the sunlight. Still others may obtain relief from appropriate protective eyewear to further reduce the exposure to flickering sunlight.

Although flicker illness is still a relatively new medical concept, it is thought that it may become more widely reported as information surfaces regarding the effects, particularly for those who may have chronic headaches, seemingly without cause. Since flicker illness is still not widely recognized, it can be a challenge to cope with the headaches and array of symptoms that seem to be without treatment. Unfortunately, not much can be done to prevent it, with the exception of avoiding sunny days but it is hoped that research will yield strategies and perhaps medications to prevent the symptoms of flicker illness.

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Marianne P - Your Question:
I just wanted to add my situation in case it can help a sufferer of flicker vertigo. I have Meniere's Disease and the flicker vertigo seems to be part of it. I have to look away from flashing police car lights, even on the news programs, to avoid getting dizzy and even vomiting. Ceiling fans are also a nightmare for me, especially if they allow ceiling lights to flicker. Even simple things such as watching figure skating on TV, the opening to the show Big Bang Theory, and most recently, the opening of the Rio Olympics-- also all made me dizzy. My advice? Know your triggers,anticipate potential ones, and always have sunglasses and a visor or cap available. Plus, see your doctor as he/she may prescribe helpful medications that "catch" the syndrome before it becomes full-blown. Good luck and take some comfort in the fact that others know your pain.and have learned to cope and get on with life.

Our Response:
Many thanks for your comments here which I'm sure will be helpful to our readers.
HeadacheExpert - 22-Sep-16 @ 2:20 PM
I just wanted to add my situation in case it can help a sufferer of flicker vertigo.I have Meniere's Disease and the flicker vertigo seems to be part of it.I have to look away from flashing police car lights, even on the news programs, to avoid getting dizzy and even vomiting.Ceiling fans are also a nightmare for me, especially if they allow ceiling lights to flicker. Even simple things such as watching figure skating on TV, the opening to the show Big Bang Theory, and most recently, the opening of the Rio Olympics-- also all made me dizzy.My advice? Know your triggers,anticipate potential ones,and always have sunglasses and a visor or cap available. Plus,see your doctor as he/she may prescribe helpful medications that "catch" the syndrome before it becomes full-blown. Good luck and take some comfort in the fact that others know your pain...and have learned to cope and get on with life.
Marianne P - 21-Sep-16 @ 6:02 PM
I believe I suffer from this too. Ever since I first noticed the symptoms, I've been searching all over for a cause. When I see strobe lights, I get almost all of these symptoms. I get very nauseous and have almost vomited a few times. I get very dizzy and disoriented and almost passed out once. I get very shaky, weak, and my muscles twitch. My behavior changes sometimes. I become dazed, confused, or sometimes irritable. When I see other flashing lights (ie. sirens or florescent lights), I get headaches and get nauseous. I have headaches more days than not and also suffer from migraines. When I started reading about flicker vertigo, it just fit.
Kelcy - 11-Mar-15 @ 4:02 AM
I've suffered from this since childhood.I've never been able to watch the tv for long and much as I love the sun (I suffer from SADs) I cannot be in a car without suffering from headaches and nausea due to the flickering of the sun through the trees.The tv has got so bad that I no longer watch it. I don't know if there is a connection, but my mum suffered with epilepsy as a child and as she grew into adulthood the seizures were replaced with constant and severe migraines.I've no idea how much, or even if at all, she was effected by flickering lights. I also on the extremely rare occasion have moments were I will stop dead and blank out.The last time this happened was about 4 years ago.I was pouring off hot oil into a container and 'lost' a moment in time.I came out of it as the last drip of oil splashed onto my foot!It's a good job I was wearing thick leather shoes at the time :)
Red - 3-Jun-12 @ 9:07 PM
My husband is a helicopter pilot. When I told him about the headaches and nausea I get from flickering lights, he was able to name it. It's called flicker vertigo, which is a condition especially known in the aviation community, since some pilots or passengers experience this while looking through moving rotorblades. My headaches come on with flickering fluorescent lights and fans placed below ceiling lights (these are very common in grocery stores) I will have to leave the area or the whole store just to feel better.I wish they would just get rid of fluorescent lights altogether.
Kristina - 19-Jul-11 @ 2:31 AM
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