‘Allergic’ to flickering lights?

Flickering lights, whether shadows of trees on the road on a bright sunny day, or fast action movies, or actual strobe lights, have all been problems for me in the past. Migraine headaches after a light show at a music concert became expected. I stopped going to them or action movies – or once or twice went but wore sunglasses the whole time.

Epilepsy? Strobe lights of a certain timing can trigger epileptic seizures but I haven’t had seizures of any typical sort. I recently consulted a neurologist who ordered an EEG – which I wasn’t informed included intense strobe lights, for many minutes. I didn’t have a seizure during the EEG but I did have a bad mood meltdown/reaction almost immediately after leaving the office and it lasted for an hour or two instead of a few minutes to a half hour which has been more typical of my odd behavior symptoms.

I had been fairly stable ever since finding out more about Mast Cell Activation Syndrome, and avoiding most of the ‘avoid list’ foods. So search engine – yes, theoretically, someone else also wondered about why people with overactive mast cell problems are also sensitive to flickering lights – may be suggesting to the brain nystagmus of the eyes: (How Flickering Light can Cause an Allergic (MCAS) Response), – or it really could be the EMF of electronic screens too – but that wouldn’t explain why I was triggered by strobe lights used for an EEG screening, or the lights of an action movie. Just a busy black and white pattern can give me a slight headache feeling.

Not a definitive answer, however there often aren’t definitive answers with unusual health symptoms. Getting the problem under control is the goal, applying labels is more about society or insurance claims.

So – if you see me in sunglasses – it may be because I’m ‘allergic’ to the flickering of lights.

Fluorescent lighting causes flickering. In animal-based research it was found to affect inflammation and immune responses. Cellular perception of oxidative stress may lead to an increase in IL1-beta and TNF. Seeing flickering lights may suggest to innate genetic pathways that we may need to make an additional immune effort – and does.

In all three organisms, Fluorescent light (FL) induced transcriptional changes of the acute phase response signaling pathway and modulated inflammation and innate immune responses. Our pathway and gene clustering analyses suggest cellular perception of oxidative stress is promoting induction of primary up-stream regulators IL1B and TNF. … Overall, the conserved nature of the genetic responses observed after FL exposure, among fishes and a mammal, suggest the presence of light responsive genetic circuitry deeply embedded in the vertebrate genome.” (2)

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” – Edgar Degas

Confirmation or congeniality bias – we tend to believe information that supports our current belief far more readily than information that contradicts it. We may be twice as likely to find and believe information that is in agreement with our belief than to give credence to information that contradicts it. (Hart et al, 2009, 3) (Decision making ebook/WiseInsights)

To see a new idea or solution we may first have to take off our blinders that keep us focused on an old idea or more limited scope of what might be possible answers. Flickering lights give me a headache and can affect my mood when more intense or for more extended length of time – am I just imagining it? or it did happen? many times – yes, and wearing dark sunglasses is protective for me, whether watching an action movie, rock concert, walking around a grocery store lit by fluorescent lights, or driving at night in urban areas with a lot of highway lights and headlights from oncoming traffic.

The mechanism of action of flickering lights triggering an immune reaction may involve a health status pathway of normal immune function that may include detecting nystagmus like light patterns as theorized regarding MCAS, (1, 5), and/or it may involve intense blue light over activating light sensing TRP channels until depolarization doesn’t occur as rapidly as in normal vision. (6) Whatever the mechanism – flickering lights inducing illness may have been weaponized. (4)

Sunglasses – check.

Reference List

  1. Russell Irvin Johnston, @russjj, How Flickering Lights can Cause an Allergic (MCAS) Response. March 9, 2019, medium.com, https://medium.com/@russjj/how-lights-flickering-can-cause-an-allergic-mcas-response-c0e250ef37f9
  2. Boswell M, Lu Y, Boswell W, et al., Fluorescent Light Incites a Conserved Immune and Inflammatory Genetic Response within Vertebrate Organs (Danio Rerio, Oryzias Latipes and Mus Musculus). April 2019, Genes 10(4):271, DOI: 10.3390/genes10040271 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332195692_Fluorescent_Light_Incites_a_Conserved_Immune_and_Inflammatory_Genetic_Response_within_Vertebrate_Organs_Danio_Rerio_Oryzias_Latipes_and_Mus_Musculus
  3. Hart W, Albarracín D, Eagly AH, Brechan I, Lindberg MJ, Merrill L. Feeling validated versus being correct: a meta-analysis of selective exposure to information. Psychol Bull. 2009;135(4):555-588. doi:10.1037/a0015701 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4797953/
  4. Yasemin Saplakoglu, Russia Claims Strobe-Light Weapon Causes Nausea & Hallucinations. Is That Even Possible?, February 15, 2019, livescience.com, https://www.livescience.com/64774-russia-navy-weapon-hallucinate.html
  5. Naren Srinivasan, Oliver Gordon, Susan Ahrens, et al., Actin is an evolutionarily-conserved damage-associated molecular pattern that signals tissue injury in Drosophila melanogaster. eLife 2016;5:e19662 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.19662 https://elifesciences.org/articles/19662Thus, extracellular actin detection via a Src-family kinase-dependent cascade is an ancient means of detecting cell injury that precedes the evolution of adaptive immunity.
  6. Katz B, Payne R, Minke B. TRP Channels in Vision. In: Emir TLR, editor. Neurobiology of TRP Channels. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2017. Chapter 3. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK476112/ doi: 10.4324/9781315152837-3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK476112/These studies have led to the identification and characterization of TRP as a light-sensitive and Ca2+-permeable channel (Minke, 2010Montell, 2011Hardie, 2011). Illumination of fly photoreceptors induces a cascade of enzymatic reactions, which result in activation of the light-sensitive TRP channels (Minke, 2010Devary et al., 1987). To function as a reliable light monitor, each stage of the phototransduction cascade needs an efficient mechanism of activation as well as an equally efficient mechanism of termination, ensuring that, at the cessation of the light stimulus, the photoreceptor potential will rapidly reach dark baseline.Failure of response termination at the stage of R activation was designated the prolonged depolarizing after (PDA) potential by Hillman, Hochstein, and Minke (Hillman et al., 1983Minke, 2012). The PDA, like the light coincident receptor potential, arises from light-induced opening of the TRP channels in the plasma membrane. However, in contrast to the light coincident receptor potential, which quickly declines to baseline after the cessation of the light stimulus, the PDA is a depolarization that continues long after light offset (Figure 3.4) (see Hillman et al., 1983Minke, 2012 for reviews). … Thus, massive R to M photoconversion by intense blue light induces a PDA, while M to R photoconversion by intense orange light suppresses the PDA.In summary, the PDA is observed only when a considerable amount of photopigment (>20%) is converted from R to M. The larger the net amount of R to M conversion, the longer the PDA. 
'Allergic' to flickering lights? by