Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia, is a condition in which bright light - either natural sunlight or artificial light - can cause significant discomfort and pain. People that experience light sensitivity will find themselves needing to close their eyes or squint when exposed to light and often experience headaches and nausea as well. In mild cases, the discomfort accompanies exposure to bright lights or harsh sunlight, but in severe cases even a small amount of light can cause symptoms.
Photophobia is more common in individuals with light eyes. This is because the greater amount of pigment in darker eyes helps to protect the eye from the harsh rays of light. The darker pigment of the iris and choroid absorbs the light, rather than reflecting it and causing glare, which is experienced by those with lighter eyes. People with albinism, a condition with a total lack of eye pigment, also experience significant light sensitivity for this reason.
Acute photophobia is usually a symptom that accompanies a condition such as an eye infection or irritation (such as conjunctivitis or dry eyes), a virus, or a migraine. (Light sensitivity is one of the most common symptoms of migraine headaches.) It can also be caused by something more serious such as a corneal abrasion, a detached retina, uveitis or iritis, or a systemic disease like meningitis or encephalitis. Light sensitivity is also a side effect of refractive surgery (such as LASIK) and some medications (such as tetracycline and doxycycline).
How to Deal with Photophobia
The most effective way to reduce the discomfort caused by photophobia is to stay out of sunlight and dim indoor lights as much as possible. Wearing dark sunglasses and keeping your eyes closed may also provide some relief.
In the summer it is more common for UV to trigger corneal inflammation (keratitis) and cause photosensitivity. Wind and eye dryness can also create photosensitivity, which are further reasons to wear sunglasses.
If the sensitivity is new and the cause is unknown, you should seek medical attention immediately, especially if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Blurry vision
- Burning or pain in the eye
- Fever and chills
- Confusion and irritability
- Severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Foreign body sensation
In cases where the photophobia is a symptom of an underlying issue, treating the issue will likely cause relief of your sensitivity. This will vary depending on the ailment but could include pain medications, eye drops or antibiotics, or anti-inflammatory medications. If the sensitivity is mild due to your genetic predisposition or a result of surgery, make sure you wear your sunglasses every time you leave the house during the daytime. People who wear prescription eyeglasses may consider photochromic lenses which automatically darken when exposed to light.
If you are uncomfortable in the light, speak to your eye doctor about the best options for your condition.