Light Sensitivity? How to Identify and Treat Photophobia

Photophobia is a condition which is characterized by an extreme sensitivity to bright light sources. It doesn’t matter what the source of the light is, be it sunlight, fluorescent bulbs, incandescent bulbs, LED bulbs or the light from a television or computer screen, any one of these can cause moderate to extreme discomfort. Oftentimes this extreme light sensitivity is accompanied by crippling headaches.

This relatively common condition can be the result of a number of different ailments or medications, some serious and others less so. Often confused with a fear of light, which is known as heliophobia, the word photophobia comes from the Greek word for light or “photo” and fear or “phobia.” Regardless, photophobia has nothing to do with a fear of light, but simply a sensitivity to it.

 

Symptoms of Photophobia

Photophobia can come from a variety of different causes, and therefore has various symptoms that may accompany it. The most common is the obvious sensitivity to light, accompanied by headaches.

Here is a list of some of the other common symptoms that have been associated with photophobia:

  • Redness
  • Dizziness
  • Neck Stiffness
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Sore or wounded eye
  • Hearing changes
  • Pain in the eye
  • Itching, or swelling
  • Tingling and numbness in the body

These symptoms often cause those dealing with this condition to avoid many things that most people take for granted, such as car headlights, sunlight, fluorescent light, computers and television. These symptoms often worsen the brighter a light becomes.

 

How Artificial Light Affects This Condition

While all bright lights tend to cause discomfort for those suffering from photophobia, for many, artificial light is far worse than natural light sources. The reason behind this isn’t precisely clear, but for those sensitive to artificial light, even moderate to low levels of artificial light can cause extreme discomfort.

For these unfortunate individuals, the only way to reach a comfortable state is by greatly dimming or completely removing the light source. This can cause problems in every aspect of their lives, from maintaining regular employment to shopping in a supermarket.

 

Potential Causes of Photophobia

While photophobia itself is not considered to be an eye disease, it can be the result of numerous conditions or even medications. One of the most common causes of light sensitivity is migraine headaches. In fact, up to 80% of those that experience, photophobia also have regular migraine headaches. Other non-migraine headaches, such as tension and cluster headaches have also been associated with this condition, but it’s not always clear if the headache is a result of the condition or if the condition is a result of the headache.

Those that have lighter colored eyes are more likely to experience photophobia. This is because darker colored pigment within one’s eyes provides greater protection from light than light-colored pigments such as blue or light green. This is especially an issue for those that suffer from the condition known as albinism, where their entire bodies lack any pigment whatsoever.

Two other lesser known causes of photophobia are poor binocular vision and accommodation. Binocular vision is the process in which your eyes work simultaneously to produce vision. Accommodation is how our eyes adjust its optical power in order to sustain a clear image on objects as their distance changes. If you’re experiencing an issue with any one of these important processes it can lead to photophobia.

Some other common causes of photophobia are meningitis, eye inflammation, wearing poorly fitting contact lenses, wearing contact lenses for too long, a corneal abrasion ulcer, eye infection, medication or diseases.

There are many medications that can lead to this condition as well, so if you’re experiencing symptoms of photophobia it's worth taking a look in your medicine cabinet and seeing if you can find the potential cause there. Some of the most common medications to cause photophobia are:

  • Furosemide
  • Sulfonamides
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Oral and estrogen-based contraceptives
  • Quinine
  • Antihistamines
  • Tetracycline
  • Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

Not only are there many medications that can result in this unpleasant condition, but there are several diseases as well. Some of the most common diseases are:

  • Dry eye
  • Inflammation in the Eye
  • Cataracts
  • Keratitis
  • Uveitis
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Eye allergies
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Pink eye

While this is not a comprehensive list of all the causes to this potentially debilitating condition, it does cover a great deal of the primary ones. If you’re suffering from photophobia and none of the potential causes on this list match you, and then you should contact your physician as it could implicate a far more serious problem.

 

How Photophobia Can Affect Your Life

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, photophobia carries with it the potential to be completely debilitating to one’s daily life. Those with chronic migraine induced photophobia may even have difficulties maintaining employment. The bright overhead lighting that is typical to most office settings can be potentially crippling to these individuals. Therefore, oftentimes those that suffer from this condition are forced to work in a state of constant pain each and every day, which in turn may hurt their ability to perform their duties. Due to a poor understanding of this condition, many of those that suffer are left vulnerable to discrimination in the workplace, or potentially even job loss.

This condition doesn’t just affect a person’s ability to work, but can make many normal daily tasks more difficult to perform for those that suffer. Things as simple as walking outside on a sunny day can be extremely painful for these individuals. Shopping is another area that can be exceedingly difficult given that most stores are equipped with bright fluorescent lighting. Driving at night can be a problem as well, as the headlights from oncoming vehicles can not only be painful, but dangerously blinding. Even looking at the screen of a computer or smartphone can be an uncomfortable and painful experience.

 

Potential Tricks and Treatments for Photophobia

Photophobia can originate from a variety of different conditions, and therefore there are a variety of different methods for treating it. In most cases, if the underlying cause of the condition is able to be successfully treated, and then the condition itself will cease to be an issue.

Unfortunately, not all causes of photophobia are able to be successfully treated, and in those instances, it’s best to learn some tricks to help you cope with bright light. Below is a list of different methods people have successfully used to make living with this condition a little more tolerable:

  • Many people find it helpful to wait a moment when transitioning from areas that have different light levels. This can help the eyes to better adjust to the new level of light and lessen the pain that is caused.
  • Use your hands to help shield your eyes from the sun when outdoors.
  • Any sunglasses that you purchase should always be UV protected, as this will help to protect you from the suns more harmful rays.
  • Sunglasses that wrap around your face and block light from all directions can also be incredibly helpful.
  • Light-activated sunglasses, called photochromic lenses, are lenses that were designed to darken when in the presence of a light source. These can often be an ideal solution for those with photophobia.
  • Sometimes people experience photophobia due to overly dry eyes. If a doctor has ever diagnosed you with dry eyes, or you believe that this may be your problem, and then make sure to always keep moisturizing eye drops handy.
  • If you believe that you’re experiencing photophobia due to a medication that you’re prescribed, and then consult your doctor about possibly discontinuing or changing the medication.
  • Wide-brimmed hats that help to block much of the sunlight have also been successfully used to help lessen discomfort caused by sunlight.
  • Polarized lenses can be used to lessen the glare that’s cast off of reflective surfaces such as snow, sand, water, concrete roadways, glass, ice and others.
  • If your sensitivity to light is especially severe, and then you can look into purchasing specialized contact lenses made to lessen the amount of light that reaches your eyes. These lenses are designed to match the color of your own eyes, so they look natural while protecting your eyes from bright light.
  • If the offending light source is indoors, then if possible dim or remove the light. If adjusting the light is not an option, and then try to retreat to a dimmer room.
  • One final method that you can try is to use specialized eye drops. These prescription eye drops will need to be given to you by your doctor, but they work by constricting your pupils. This helps to reduce the amount of light that your eye can receive.

While there are clearly many ways to mitigate or potentially treat the discomfort associated with photophobia, for those that suffer it’s important to still see a doctor. While you may be able to avoid most pain using a variety of techniques, photophobia can still be a symptom of a much worse problem, such as meningitis.

 

Conclusion

Photophobia is a common condition that affects millions of people across the globe. It can be caused by a variety of different ailments, some treatable, and others that aren’t. Fortunately for those that suffer there are numerous worthwhile techniques that can be used to lessen, or potentially even cure this sometimes debilitating condition.