A fluorescent light headache is a type of headache triggered by fluorescent lights. This may also be a symptom of photophobia, a condition that describes sensitivity to light.

Fluorescent lights are very common, and your exposure to them may be frequent if you spend a lot of time indoors.

If you find yourself experiencing headaches after exposure, these seemingly harmless artificial forms of light could be the cause.

If you’re concerned about possible fluorescent light headaches, consider the symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

“Fluorescent light headache” isn’t a medical term. But symptoms associated with this type of headache and photophobia more generally may include:

  • frequent headaches after indoor light exposure
  • discomfort when adjusting to indoor lighting
  • feeling that fluorescent lights are too bright for your eyes
  • problems with adjusting to different lighting outside of your home or workplace

The exact causes of fluorescent light headaches aren’t known. They may occur on their own or are related to other headache disorders. A combination of pain and visual pathways might contribute to this type of headache.

Migraine is one possible cause of fluorescent light headaches. People who have migraine may have photophobia, but also experience headaches from other triggers, such as:

  • strong smells
  • stress
  • weather changes
  • lack of sleep
  • hormonal changes
  • skipping meals

Fluorescent light sensitivity may also trigger tension or cluster headaches.

Unlike migraine, tension headaches don’t come with aura. Cluster headaches, on the other hand, may come with aura, and they tend to develop on one side of your head only.

Other conditions linked with photophobia and possible fluorescent light headaches include:

Aside from sensitivity to fluorescent lights, you may be at an increased risk of developing headaches based on length and frequency of exposure.

Schools or indoor workplaces could also be triggers, due to the presence of fluorescent lighting.

Certain factors may increase your risk of developing the following headaches:

  • Migraine: Anyone may develop migraine.
  • Tension headache: Tension headaches start in adolescence and peak in adulthood in your 30s.
  • Cluster headache: This type occurs more frequently in males ages 20–50.

Not all headaches require treatment from a doctor. But if you’re experiencing frequent headaches that cause you to miss work, and also interfere with your daily life, you may consider getting medical help.

You should also contact a doctor if you consistently experience more than two headaches a week, have recurring headaches despite treatment or lifestyle modifications, or if you have any underlying medical conditions such as cancer.

Medical emergency

Get immediate medical attention if you have an intense headache and the following symptoms, which could be signs of more serious conditions:

  • neck stiffness
  • a head injury
  • vision changes
  • confusion
  • changes in behavior
  • loss of consciousness
  • physical weakness or loss of sensations in the body

A doctor will likely ask you about your symptoms and may also order tests. You should expect questions about headache frequency, what time of day they occur, and pain intensity.

This is where keeping a headache diary may be useful. You can also take note of other helpful information, such as:

  • menstrual cycles
  • fluid intake
  • weather changes
  • activity levels
  • stressful events
  • your diet
  • any medications you take, including over-the-counter (OTC) drugs or supplements

Medical tests may include:

Immediate relief may consist of a combination of home remedies and OTC medications, such as:

  • taking breaks in dark rooms
  • heat pads
  • cool compresses or cold packs
  • OTC oral or topical pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

These may help treat both frequent and occasional fluorescent light headaches. But if you have chronic headaches, you may need prescription medications. These include:

Consider speaking with a doctor about complementary alternative therapies such as:

If you’re experiencing an acute headache from fluorescent lights, treatment can help address symptoms and improve your quality of life. But chronic headaches may require more preventive techniques.

Here are some steps to consider.

Gradual exposure to fluorescent lighting

Consider gradual exposure as a way to prevent future headaches. Try small amounts of exposure each day until you build tolerance.

Glasses to block fluorescent light

Fluorescent-light-blocking glasses made with FL-41 tint work by protecting your eyes from specific wavelengths of light.

Still, it’s unclear whether such glasses work for everyone, and you may need to try several types before finding a pair that works for you.

Fluorescent light headaches develop due to exposure to fluorescent lighting, but there isn’t a single known cause for this. In many cases, symptoms of photophobia are related to underlying headache disorders.

Since it’s difficult to avoid fluorescent lighting, consider speaking with a doctor about treatment and preventive strategies if you regularly experience headaches.