Brightons woman advises people to be LightAware

In the limelight...Anna Levin put her own health conundrum to good use, setting up LightAware to help fellow sufferers and it's now an award-winning charity.
In the limelight...Anna Levin put her own health conundrum to good use, setting up LightAware to help fellow sufferers and it's now an award-winning charity.
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Heralded as eco-friendly and energy efficient, CFL and LED lights are now the norm in our homes, streets, schools and workplaces.

But there is a growing army of people who have been left virtual prisoners in their own homes because of them.

Medical card...which LightAware has created to help people explain their condition.

Medical card...which LightAware has created to help people explain their condition.

Headaches, dizziness and nausea are just a few of the symptoms suffered by people who are sensitive to the new lighting.

And thanks to an EU ban on incandescent light bulbs, it is difficult for them to live what we would consider an ordinary life.

It can take months to discover what is triggering their symptoms and life afterwards can be both debilitating and depressing.

Indeed, some people have even contemplated suicide after losing their jobs because they can’t tolerate compact flourescent lights (CFL) or light emitting diodes (LED) which are now, pretty much, everywhere.

Freelance writer and editor Anna Levin knows only too well how difficult it can be to function when you are affected.

In April 2013, the busy working mum of two from Brightons was on a training course and CFLs were being used to light the class.

She said: “I started feeling weird sensations – like my head was floating away.

“I felt very dizzy and sick but when I went outside I started feeling better again.

“Every time I went back into the class, though, the symptoms returned.

“I was otherwise fit and healthy so my GP, who was very sympathetic, sent me to a dermatologist, neurologist and psychologist – none of whom could find anything wrong with me.”

Anna discovered that she consistently felt very unwell when exposed to CFL lighting or new fluorescent strips.

“I got a burning, tingling sensation so I knew where they were in any room I was in,” she explained.

“The effects were very immediate and lasted quite a long time afterwards.”

In a bid to understand what was going on, Anna did what she does best – she wrote a blog and was astounded at the response.

“People around the world started sharing their stories with me,” she said.

“I heard from people suffering awful eye pain, headaches, skin problems, dizziness and confusion – all from new forms of lighting.

“Doctors couldn’t explain what was happening because we all had different symptoms and perhaps tolerated one type of light, but not the other.

“In my case, LEDs don’t affect me in the same way CFL bulbs do.

“I was quite lucky in comparison to some. I work from home so can control my own lighting environment and I have a massive stockpile of the old incandescent lightbulbs.

“But hearing other people’s stories moved me from self-pity to anger.”

That anger was duly put to good use two years ago when Anna founded a charity, LightAware, with fellow Trustees, Dr John Lincoln from Edinburgh and Andrew Collins from London.

Thousands of people across the globe affected by CFL and LED lights have since visited the website for advice and support.

And the charity’s hard work in raising awareness last year won an accolade on the global stage – the 2017 Award at Large from the Professional Lighting Design Convention.

As the only Trustee not affected by new forms of lighting, Dr John Lincoln picked up the prestigious international award in Paris.

But his fellow Trustees were delighted their small charity was recognised.

Anna said: “People are excluded from workplaces, shops, education, recreation and health care. It’s a severe form of social exclusion.

“So the more awareness we can raise, the better.

“John gave the keynote speech at the awards event to bigwigs in the lighting world, people who light our public buildings.

“It was fantastic to get that kind of platform and we were delighted to win.”

Anna (46) is also grateful for the support she’s received, not least from Wallacestone Primary where her children Joe (11) and Saskia (6) are pupils.

She added: “The school, vet and some shops all switch lights off for me. In general, people have been really helpful.”

Scottish with a global reach

LightAware was founded in November 2015 to raise awareness of the impact of artificial light on human health and well-being and to advocate for light sensitivity as an accessibility issue.

Many people with pre-existing health conditions, including migraine and skin conditions, find their symptoms made worse by new lighting.

Others with no previous health issues experience symptoms including severe eye pain, headaches, skin burning, rashes, fainting, vomiting and confusion.

The charity has created a website – www.lightaware.org – as a resource for light-sensitive people and those seeking to help them.

Trustees and supporters have lobbied politicians, liaised with local councils and built up a global network of ambassadors and advisors.

Anna Levin is one of three founding trustees of the charity, described as “Scottish but with a global reach”.

Dr John Lincoln from Edinburgh and Andrew Collins from London helped Anna found the charity, with a little help from CVS Falkirk.

Anna’s sister, Eleanor Levin, from Lancaster, is also now a trustee. Together, their main aim is to raise awareness. Anna said: “None of us had ever run a charity but we felt compelled to do this.

“We wanted a collective voice to be able to lobby the European Union – and we are doing that right now.”

The charity has also launched its own medical cards which people can carry to explain their predicament. These have been a huge success story.

Anna added: “It sounds absurd to say you are allergic to light bulbs or when you call to ask what kind of lighting a venue has. The Please Be LightAware cards explain simply why the person needs help.”