Blinking Lights Trigger Seizures and Migraines

I have a problem with blinking lights.  I love to take my walks in the park and along the bike trail across the street from our house every morning.  But, over the last two years, I have had more and more problems with blinking lights from bicycles.  The blinking lights trigger my migraine headaches.

Migraine headaches are a problem for more than 39 million people in the United States alone, according to the American Migraine Foundation.  In addition, there are 3.4 million Americans who suffer from epilepsy or some other seizure disorder.  For many of these people, migraine sufferers and people who get seizures, blinking lights can be a trigger to a migraine or a seizure.

For some reason, manufacturers who make bike lights decided, several years ago, to give the lights different settings.  In addition to being on or off, a bike light can now flash or blink and some can be adjusted to blink at different speeds.  I don’t have a problem with the light being on or off, but the blinking triggers my migraines.  The problem is worse when it is an LED light with blue tints set at a certain frequency.  Even if I close my eyes, I can still “see” the flashing and get the headache.

This is a medical condition called photophobia.  It is not a fear of light, as you might think from the word, but a sensitivity to particular kinds of lights.  I can’t sit in a restaurant where the rotating ceiling fan is below the light fixture – the flashing shadow and light trigger the migraines.  When I am riding in the car at certain times of day, the sun coming through the trees on the side of the road can trigger the migraines.  I am thankful that I only get migraines and don’t have a problem with these lights triggering seizures.

The problem with the blinking lights on bikes is the worst on the weekends when there are more riders on the trail.  I walk on the Ohio to Erie Bike Trail.  It is a dedicated bike trail – no motorists.  The cyclists are the biggest thing on the trail.  And I only walk during daylight hours.  So why do so many of these cyclists have bright, flashing lights on the front of their bikes?  The lights aren’t helping them see.  It may help them be seen, but a steady on light could do the same thing.  I can totally understand needing these lights on roads or in the dark.  The bike path, during the day, is not a place that needs a blinking light.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and even considered not taking my daily walks along the bike path.  If I stay on the path in the park, I could limit my exposure to cyclists.  But I really like walking on the bike path and it is an easy way to make my walk shorter or longer as time and weather permit.

After months of silence about the issue, I decided I was going to start speaking up.  Most of the cyclists I know are very kind, considerate people.  I’m sure they do not want to cause harm to another person.  But how can I tell them the harm their blinking lights are causing?  A sign?  Handing them a piece of paper?  Most of the cyclists I meet are going too fast for them to read anything.

So I have taken to telling people I meet with blinking lights, “Blinking lights trigger migraines!”  I have to shout it at them in order for them to hear me.  Just shouting those four words means that they might hear all of them.  I even have hand gestures that go with the words.  The riders don’t stop, but some of them nod or wave.  Some of them scowl at me.  I’m sure some of them are wondering what the crazy old lady is shouting about.

The other day a group of about 30 cyclists went by on the trail, all spread out.  About half of them had the flashing lights that cause a problem.  I kept repeating my message at high volume.  Maybe some of them heard and will tell the others.  Maybe I can keep someone else from getting a migraine or a seizure from the lights.

I don’t want to take away anyone’s enjoyment of riding their bike.  But I do want all of us to be as safe and healthy as possible.  How can I spread the word to more people?  Write letters to the 3,000 different bike light manufacturers?  Ask the Genoa Township Trustees to add “No blinking lights” to the rules on the signs along the trail?  Or should I just continue to shout out my message, one bike rider at a time?