What is Photophobia?
Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is pain or discomfort caused by light. Photophobia literally means fear of light (photo meaning “light” and phobia meaning “fear of”).
It’s not an eye disease, but photophobia can be a symptom of a variety of conditions, including dry eye, cataracts, and laser eye surgery. Depending on the severity or cause, photophobia can be caused by bright dim or bright light.
Common Causes of Photophobia
Photophobia can often be linked to issues with your eyes. Various types of infection or inflammation in the eye can make your eyes especially sensitive to light. Some of these eye conditions include:
- Dry eye
- Corneal abrasion
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Eye allergies
- Keratitis, uveitis, or scleritis (inflammation in the eye)
Because photophobia can be a sign of many eye issues, it’s important to speak to your optometrist. They can rule out more serious issues and create a treatment plan to address the root cause.
Headache & Brain Conditions
Photophobia is a common symptom of headaches, especially migraines. Like in the eyes, photophobia can also be a sign of infection or inflammation in the brain, including:
Certain medications can also cause light sensitivity in both the skin and eyes. Some of these medications include:
- Antihistamines (allergy medication)
- Anti-inflammatory drugs, including ibuprofen (Advil)
- Cholesterol medication
- Oral contraceptives (birth control)
- Type 2 diabetes medication
What to Do if You Have Photophobia
Talk to Your Doctor
Because so many conditions can cause photophobia, it’s best to visit your optometrist as soon as possible. Your optometrist can help determine the cause and the right treatment.
If your photophobia is accompanied by these symptoms, seek emergency care:
- Blurry vision, eye pain (these are signs of corneal abrasion)
- Severe headache, fever, nausea, confusion (these are signs of brain conditions like encephalitis, meningitis, or brain hemorrhage)
You may also want to consider lifestyle adjustments to help manage your photophobia:
- Using sunglasses when outside or photochromic (Transitions) lenses
- Polarized lenses can be especially helpful for glare/very bright light
- Avoiding bright light
- Changing your lights to dimmer, warmer bulbs
Combined with advice from your optometrist, photophobia can be very manageable in most cases.