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Guidance for health professionals

Visiting the doctor or hospital can be stressful in itself, but for some people, the lighting environment in healthcare premises may significantly add to that stress and cause pain and ill health. As well as needing to visit health premises because of illness relating to their light sensitivity, people will also need to attend for the same reasons as everyone else. For example, accidents, illness not related to light sensitivity and accompanying friends and loved ones.

Access to healthcare premises may be difficult for light-sensitive people because many newer hospital buildings and GP surgeries used the cheapest fluorescent, CFL or LED lighting available at the time and it is now being realised that this lighting can have negative impacts on patients and visitors. 

What we would like healthcare premises to do

We wish to encourage greater awareness and understanding of light sensitivity. It must be taken seriously otherwise light- sensitive people can be excluded from healthcare premises, leading to poorer health outcomes. We are asking healthcare providers to be LightAware. This means:

  • knowing what lighting you have
  • listening to an individual’s needs
  • working together to create a plan for access.

What can staff do to help

Like any accessibility issue, attitude and understanding make a big difference – this means listening to an individual’s requirements with attention and respect. This will include:

  • make staff training on light sensitivity part of regular disability awareness training
  • give staff the authority to make changes to help light sensitive people
  • be ready and willing to provide light sensitive visitors with information on the types of lighting installed within a building
  • be willing and able to switch off lights where required
  • be willing to change bulb types to accommodate an individual’s needs
  • be willing to open blinds and curtains.

The ban on incandescent and halogen bulbs reduces the ability of organisations to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate light sensitive people, but steps can still be taken to enable access. In hospitals, it is important that the patient liaison service is aware of light sensitivity and is aware of the types of lighting within the hospital. People with certain health conditions may find their symptoms are made worse by some forms of lighting technology, particularly fluorescent and LED. In primary care receptionists should be welcoming to light sensitive people and listen to their requests to switch off lighting if requested.

When light-sensitive people visit hospital premises it is important that plans are made in advance to accommodate them. The most useful is the ability to switch off lighting in waiting areas, consulting areas and in toilets, wherever possible. These types of patients who are light sensitive include:

People suffering from migraine and headache

For example, headache and migraine patients comprise about 30% of appointments at neurology outpatient clinics and fluorescent lighting is a trigger for a significant number of migraine sufferers and for people with photosensitive epilepsy.

The Migraine Trust has produced specific guidance on accessing healthcare.

People with autism

Some people on the autistic spectrum are extremely sensitive to light and can discern the flicker of fluorescent lights. In addition, pen lights used by health professionals can trigger seizures in susceptible individuals (seizures occur in 20-30% of autistic people).

The National Autistic Society has produced detailed information aimed at health professionals who may come into contact with an autistic adult or child for reasons other than autism.

People with light-sensitive skin conditions such as Lupus and photosensitive seborrheic eczema

As many as 70% of people with Lupus have some skin symptoms and Lupus UK estimates that about 30,000 sufferers are adversely affected by fluorescent lighting. LED lighting is purported to be less harmful than fluorescent as it doesn’t emit ultraviolet light (UV), but many people with lupus cannot tolerate LED lighting either.

Lupus UK has produced information about meeting the needs of light sensitive patients in healthcare settings.

In addition, some people without any previous health conditions find they are unable to tolerate the newer forms of artificial lighting.

Dental practices

Dental visits can be difficult as dentists use bright focussed light (often LEDs) to illuminate the mouth and teeth and this can be difficult for light sensitive patients. Your patients may request that these are only switched on during examination and treatment. Practice managers are often qualified dental nurses and may understand where problems arise, how they might be overcome or effects mitigated. Protective orange glasses may provide some protection for patients (staff use these when light-curing fillings) so they may be readily available and medical masks can be adjusted to protect most of the lower face where this is required.

We welcome any feedback you may have about this guidance.

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