Photophobia (light sensitivity)
Photophobia is a symptom of light intolerance, where the eyes are very sensitive to certain levels of light. Also known as light sensitivity, it can involve an uncomfortable or painful feeling in response to sunlight, or indoor lighting like fluorescent or incandescent light bulbs.
Causes of photophobia
There are quite a few eye conditions that can cause photophobia as a symptom, these include:
- Dry eye
- Uveitis (inflammation inside the eye)
- Keratitis (inflammation of your cornea, the clear layer at the front of the eye)
- Ocular albinism (a lack of pigment in the eye that affects the eye’s ability to block light coming into the eye)
- Cataracts (cloudy patches in the lens of the eye)
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the eye)
- Damage to your retina, the light-sensitive layer in the back of your eye
- Blepharospasm (a condition that makes your eyelids close uncontrollably)
Light sensitivity may also affect people with medical conditions that affect the nervous system, as well as some mental health conditions. They’re also a very common symptom in migraines.
Symptoms of photophobia (light sensitivity)
Photophobia symptoms will vary from person to person, but they tend to include things like:
- Eye strain or pain
- Headache or migraine
- Blinking excessively
- Watery eyes
- Feeling dizzy
Cases can range from very mild symptoms like squinting to more severe reactions like severe eye pain and headaches with any type of light.
Light sensitivity is also a common trigger and symptom of migraines, which can accompany nausea, eye ache and severe headache. Many migraine sufferers find that they need to recover in a dark room during an attack because of their photophobia, or that bright lights can trigger an attack.
Sudden light sensitivity can be a sign of a more serious condition, like meningitis, so if you experience sudden on-set symptoms, you should see your GP as soon as you can.
Can photophobia be prevented?
Photophobia cannot altogether be prevented, but there are a few things you can do that might help with any light sensitivity, like keeping your eyes in good health to avoid the eye conditions associated with photophobia and avoiding your migraine triggers.
Although sunglasses can provide some relief outdoors during episodes of photophobia, wearing them indoors is best avoided as they can indirectly make the photophobia worse by adapting the eyes to conditions which are too dark.
As many cases of photophobia are due to an underlying cause, treatment will involve addressing that condition which in turn will relieve your light sensitivity.
You might find it helpful to wear sunglasses and a hat if you’re out in the sunshine, or ask your optician about Reactions lenses, which adapt to changing light.
Photophobia glasses to help with light sensitivity
Some people are naturally more sensitive to bright light, just like our skin copes differently in sunshine. If you find you suffer with bright lights generally, ask your optometrist about lens types for your glasses to help with your sensitivity. For indoors, they may suggest an anti-reflection coating to help with harsh office lighting, for example.
In the sun, you can opt for sunglasses with polarising lenses which eliminate glare from reflective surfaces like water, snow, and wet roads.