Photophobia: Light sensitivity symptoms, causes and treatment
Photophobia, or light sensitivity, is eye discomfort caused by light.
Sources such as sunlight, fluorescent light and incandescent light all can cause discomfort, creating a need to squint or close your eyes. Headaches also may accompany light sensitivity.
Light-sensitive people sometimes are bothered only by very bright light. In extreme cases, however, any amount of light can be irritating.
What causes photophobia?
Photophobia is not an eye disease, but a symptom of many conditions such as infection or inflammation that can irritate the eyes.
People with a lighter eye colour also may experience more light sensitivity in environments such as bright sunlight, because darker-coloured eyes contain more pigment to protect against harsh lighting.
Other common causes of photophobia include corneal abrasion, uveitis and a central nervous system disorder such as meningitis. Light sensitivity also is associated with a detached retina, contact lens irritations, sunburn and refractive surgery.
Also, some prescription medications, including tetracycline and other antibiotics, may cause light sensitivity as a side effect.
QUIZ: ARE YOU LIGHT SENSITIVE? Take a six-question Light Sensitivity Quiz from Transitions Optical assessing how different types of light impact your eyes.
The best treatment for light sensitivity is to address the underlying cause. Once the triggering factor is resolved or managed, photophobia disappears in many cases.
If you are taking a medication that causes light sensitivity, talk to your prescribing doctor about discontinuing or replacing the drug.
Also, consider wearing spectacles with photochromic lenses. These lenses darken automatically outdoors and also block 100 percent of the sun's UV rays.
In bright sunlight, wear polarised sunglasses. These lenses provide extra protection against glare-causing reflections of light from water, sand, snow, concrete roadways and other reflective surfaces.
If you are very sensitive to light, you might even want to consider wearing prosthetic contact lenses that are specially coloured to look like your own eyes and also reduce the amount of light that enters your eyes to reduce or prevent photophobia.
Page published in June 2019
Page updated in September 2020