What is photophobia?
Photophobia means “fear of light”. If you have photophobia, you are not afraid of light, but you are very sensitive to it. The sun or strong indoor light can be uncomfortable and painful. Photophobia is not a condition, it is a symptom of another problem. Migraines, dry eyes, and puffiness within the eye are often associated with sensitivity to light.
Light sensitivity is a condition in which bright lights bother the eyes. Another name for this condition is photophobia. It is a common symptom associated with many different conditions ranging from mild irritations to serious medical emergencies.
The lightweight cases will have you clapping your hands when you’re in a well-lit room or outdoors. In more serious cases, this condition can cause significant pain when your eyes are exposed to almost any type of light. It can cause pain when in strong sunlight or indoor light. You may want to blink or close your eyes. Some people also have headaches.
Causes of photophobia
Photophobia is associated with the connection between the cells in the eyes that detect light and the nerves that go to the head. Migraines are a very common cause of sensitivity to light. 80% of the people who receive them have photophobia along with headaches. Most of them are sensitive to light even when there is no headache. Other types of headaches can also cause photophobia. People who experience tension and cluster headaches are also said to feel uncomfortable in bright light.
Certain brain conditions can cause photophobia, including:
- Meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)
- Severe brain injury
- Supranuclear palsy (a brain disorder that causes problems with balance, gait, and eye movements).
- Tumors in your pituitary gland
Some eye diseases can cause this symptom, including:
- Dry Eye
- Uveitis (inflammation inside your eye)
- Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea, the transparent layer that covers the pigmented part of the eye)
- Iritis (swelling of the colored ring around the pupil)
- Cataracts (cloudy covers over your lenses)
- Corneal abrasion (scratch on the cornea)
- Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear tissue found in the white of the eye)
- Damage to your retina, the light-sensitive membrane at the back of the eye
- Blepharospasm (uncontrolled closing of the eyelids)
Photophobia also affects some people with these mental health conditions:
- Agoraphobia (fear of being in public)
- Bipolar disorder
- Panic disorder
You may also have photophobia after you have had LASIK or other surgery to fix vision problems. Some wavelengths of light, such as the blue light given to you by your computer and your smartphone, can be very sensitive. Some drugs can also cause photophobia, including:
- Antibiotics, doxycycline, and tetracycline
- Furosemide (LASIX): Helps your body retain more fluid. It is used to treat circulatory heart failure, liver disease, kidney disease, and other conditions.
Symptoms of photophobia
Photophobia affects people of all ages. It is often a benign, recurring experience (not clinically serious), but develops due to a medical condition. If you are having photophobia for the first time you should seek medical help as you may need treatment.
In general, photophobia affects both eyes equally. However, sometimes, eye problems can cause photophobia in one eye.
Symptoms of photophobia:
- Sensitivity to light
- Aversion to light
- Regular lighting appears high brightness
- See brightly colored spots, even in the dark or with your eyes closed
- Images or text are difficult to read or see
- Pain or discomfort when looking at the light
- One or two-eyed dispersion
- Forehead pain
- Tears from your eyes
- Feeling that your eyes are too dry
- The feeling that you want to close your eyes
When to care immediately
Some conditions that cause sensitivity to light are considered medical emergencies. If you have this symptom and other symptoms associated with one of these conditions, you should seek medical attention immediately.
- Appearing cloudy
- Pain or burning in the eye
- The feeling that there is something in your eye.
- Intense headache
- It’s hard to inspire
- Fever and chills
- Intense headache
- Tight neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sudden, severe headaches make the back of the head worse.
- Irritability and confusion
- Decreased consciousness
- Numbness in parts of your body
Treatment for photophobia
Staying out of sunlight and dimming indoor lights can help make photophobia less uncomfortable. Keeping your eyes closed or covering them with dark tinted glass can also be a relief.
See your doctor immediately if you experience extreme sensitivity to light. Your doctor will do an eye exam and a physical exam. They may also ask questions about the frequency and severity of your symptoms to determine the cause. The type of treatment you need depends on the underlying cause. Types of treatment:
- Medicines and rest for migraine headaches
- Eye drops reduce scleritis inflammation
- Antibiotics for conjunctivitis.
- Artificial tears for mild dry eye syndrome
- Antibiotic eye drops for corneal abrasions
- Anti-inflammatory medications, bed rest, and fluids for mild cases of encephalitis (severe cases require supportive care, such as respiratory assistance).
- Antibiotics for bacterial meningitis (the viral form usually clears up within 2 weeks)
Surgery to remove excess blood and reduce pressure on your brain from subarachnoid hemorrhage.
While you may not be able to prevent light sensitivity, certain behaviors can help prevent some of the conditions that can cause photophobia, including the following:
- Try to avoid the triggers that cause you to have migraine attacks
- Prevent conjunctivitis by practicing good hygiene, not touching your eyes, and not sharing eye makeup
- Reduce your risk of getting meningitis by avoiding contact with infected people, washing your hands often, and getting immunized against bacterial meningitis
- Help prevent encephalitis by washing your hands frequently
- Getting vaccinations against encephalitis and avoiding exposure to mosquitoes and ticks can also help prevent encephalitis
When to contact a doctor
If so, call your provider:
- Sensitivity to light can be severe or painful. (For example, you must wear sunglasses at home.)
- The sensitivity presents with a headache, red eyes, or blurred vision or does not go away within a day or two.
Department to consult for this condition
- Department of Ophthalmology