Shedding light on photophobia

Shedding light on photophobia

Most of us have experienced discomfort with light as the source at some point, perhaps it stemmed from staring too long at a computer screen or emerging from a darkened place into the bright sunshine.  However, if you are suffering from a prolonged uncomfortable, or even painful sensitivity to light you might have a medical condition known as photophobia.

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.

The symptoms of photophobia are often overcome quickly, however, for some photophobia can be a persistent symptom of another medical condition such as a migraine, a concussion or dry eye syndrome.

Why does photophobia occur?

Photophobia is not an eye disease, but a symptom of many conditions such as an infection or inflammation that can irritate the eyes. 

What causes photophobia and light sensitivity?

There are more than 50 medical condition that involve photophobia as a prominent symptom, with dry eye being most commonly associated with sensitivity to light. Some of these conditions include:

  • Albinism
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Concussion and post-concussion syndrome
  • Depression
  • Meningitis 
  • Lyme disease
  • Glaucoma
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Migraine
  • Corneal and retinal disease

The colour of your iris might also be the culprit of increasing your chances of becoming light sensitive, specifically, if you are a person with a lighter colour eye such as blue then there is less pigment to block bright or harsh light.

What do people with photophobia experience

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Some of the physical ymptoms of light sensitivity include:

  • Eyestrain and squinting
  • Eye pain
  • Intolerance of light, especially fluorescent
  • Excessive blinking
  • Watery eyes 
  • Vertigo or dizziness 
  • Seeing bright coloured spots, even in the dark or with your eyes closed.

Unfortunately, there are no specific interventions that directly combat photophobia; the best solution is to treat the underlying causes. Research has also shown that treating the underlying health problem can help reduce overall symptoms and pain associated with light sensitivity.

Other general relief options include:

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  • A dark room for severe light sensitivity
  • Eye rest and relaxation
  • Polarized and UVA/UVB blocking sunglasses for outdoor use
  • Reducing screen time from electronics 
  • Installing screen filter apps for your phone and computer
  • Removing fluorescent light bulbs

If you have photophobia, it is important that you see an optometrist as soon as possible so that the cause can be identified and treated. Managing the cause is the most important way to combat the symptoms allowing you to take measures to reduce the discomfort of your photophobia.

Date Published: 
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