There is no doubt that the focus on reducing energy consumption in the past decade has led to the increased use of fluorescent light bulbs over conventional incandescent bulbs. While there are definitely benefits to having your home and office equipped with efficient CFL bulbs, new research suggests that overdoing it can lead to adverse effects on your vision.
Indeed, one study out of the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia, found that overexposure to “cool” or “bright white” fluorescent bulbs in office buildings, markets, schools, and other commercial areas can lead to several vision-afflicting maladies.
They concluded that you are putting yourself at the greatest risk if you are exposed to this kind of lighting for 45 hours a week or more. Once you pass that threshold, you’re increasing your risk of acquiring not only cataracts, but diseases like pterygia, which causes a non-cancerous tissue to grow on the whites of your eyes, eventually obscuring your vision.
What is it that causes “cool” and “bright white” fluorescent bulbs to have this effect? It is the excess amount of UV radiation they emit, which equals or exceeds the amount contained within sunlight. If you spend enough time in this kind of light, which many people do (especially in office spaces), you increase your risk of causing “”irreparable damage to [your eyes],” according to this study. Many people are already at risk of developing cataracts as they age, and increased use of high UV fluorescent bulbs has only made the situation worse.
Indeed, one of the coauthors of this study, Helen Walls, states that “exposure to ‘cool white’ fluorescents for 45 hours per week throughout your working life may increase your risk of getting cataracts at age 50 by between 2 and 12 percent.”
Remember: this kind of damage is caused by indirect exposure to the light emitted by bright fluorescents. You probably increase your risk exponentially if you stare at them directly with your naked eyes. I add that because, while most of us are told not to look directly at the sun, we’re never really told not to look directly at a light bulb.
For an outline of the light bulbs you should avoid, light bulbs you should buy, and steps you can take to protect yourself, read on.
Light Bulbs To Avoid
- High efficiency “cool” and “bright white” fluorescent bulbs. They usually emit a slightly bluish light along with copious amounts of UV radiation, and are often used in schools and offices.
Light Bulbs To Buy
- Traditional incandescent bulbs.
- “Warm white” fluorescent CFLs, which mimic the glow of an incandescent bulb while still being energy efficient. Additionally, they do not emit as much UV radiation as their brighter counterparts.
- LED bulbs.
- Halogen bulbs are also an option in special cases. They are bright enough for most tasks, do not emit UV radiation, and are only slightly more inefficient than CFLs.
For a look at how much these bulbs cost, check this useful site (this one is good too). Typically speaking though, LEDs are the most expensive but use the least amount of energy. Flourescents are much cheaper but not nearly as efficient as LEDs. Incandescents cost the least up front, but use the most energy.
Steps You Can Take
- Don’t replace all of your incandescent bulbs at home with “bright white” fluorescents. As the researchers note in their study, this only increases the time that your eyes are exposed to excess UV radiation during the week.
- Use natural lighting when you can, especially while at work. Most buildings have UV resistant glass installed, so the light filtered in through your window is healthier for you than the fluorescent light above you or on your desk.
- If you work outside, wear sunglasses at all times.
- If you work inside, consider purchasing glasses that protect you from UV light, such as these.
The main takeaway here is that you can drastically improve your eye health by taking a few precautionary measures both at work and at home. Trust me, your eyes will thank you as you get older!