Photophobia is a condition
in which bright lights hurt your eyes. Another name for this condition is light
sensitivity. It’s a common symptom that’s associated with several different
conditions, ranging from minor irritations to serious medical emergencies.
Mild cases make you squint
in a brightly lit room or while outside. In more severe cases, this condition
causes considerable pain when your eyes are exposed to almost any type of
What Causes Photophobia?
Photophobia is a common
symptom of migraine headaches. These are severe headaches that can be triggered
by a number of factors, including hormonal changes, foods, stress, and
environmental changes. Other symptoms include throbbing in one part of your
head, nausea, and vomiting. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and
Stroke, more than 10 percent of
people around the world have migraines. They occur three times more often in
women than in men.
Conditions That Affect the Brain
Light sensitivity is
commonly associated with a few serious conditions that affect the brain. These
Encephalitis occurs when
your brain is inflamed from a viral infection or other cause. Severe cases of
it can be life-threatening.
This is a bacterial
infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and
spinal cord. The bacterial form can lead to serious complications such as brain
damage, hearing loss, seizures, and even death.
A subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs
when you have bleeding between your brain and the surrounding layers of tissue.
It can be fatal or lead to brain damage or a stroke.
Conditions That Affect the Eyes
Photophobia is also common
in several conditions that affect the eyes. These include:
A corneal abrasion is an injury
to the cornea. The cornea is the outermost layer of the eye. This type of
injury is common and can happen if you get sand, dirt, metal particles or other
substances in your eyes. This can lead to a serious condition called a corneal
ulcer if the cornea becomes infected.
Scleritis occurs when the
white part of your eye becomes inflamed. It mainly affects people between 30
and 50 years old, women in particular. It’s usually caused by diseases that affect the
immune system, such as lupus. Other symptoms include eye pain, watery eyes, and
Also known as “pink eye,” this
occurs when the layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eye becomes
infected or inflamed. It’s mostly caused by viruses. Other causes include
bacteria and allergies. Other symptoms include itching, redness, and eye pain.
Dry Eye Syndrome
This occurs when your tear
ducts can’t make enough tears or make poor quality tears. It results in your
eyes being excessively dry. Causes include age, environmental factors, certain
medical conditions, and some medications.
When to Seek Immediate Care
Some conditions that cause
sensitivity to light are considered medical emergencies. If you have this
symptom and any other symptoms associated with one of these conditions, you
should seek immediate medical care.
- blurry vision
- pain or
burning in your eye
- the sensation
that you have something in your eye
difficult to arouse
- fever and
- stiff neck
- nausea and
- sudden and
severe headache that feels worse toward the back of your head
- numbness in
parts of your body
How to Treat Photophobia
Staying out of sunlight
and keeping the lights dimmed inside can help make photophobia less
uncomfortable. Keeping your eyes closed or covering them with dark, tinted
glasses can also provide relief.
Consult your doctor
immediately if you’re experiencing severe light sensitivity. Your doctor will
perform a physical examination as well as an eye exam. They may also ask
questions about the frequency and severity of your symptoms to determine the
The type of treatment you
need will depend on the underlying cause. Types of treatment include:
and rest for migraines
- eye drops that
reduce inflammation for scleritis
tears for mild dry eye syndrome
- antibiotic eye
drops for corneal abrasions
medications, bed rest, and fluids for mild cases of encephalitis. Severe cases
require supportive care, such as breathing assistance.
for bacterial meningitis. The viral form usually clears up on its own within
- surgery to
remove excess blood and relieve pressure on your brain for subarachnoid
Tips to Prevent Photophobia
While you may not be able
to prevent light sensitivity, certain behaviors can help prevent some of the
conditions that can cause photophobia.
Try to avoid the triggers
that cause you to have migraine headaches.
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 people who are infected, washing
your hands often, and getting immunized against bacterial meningitis.
Help prevent encephalitis
by washing your hands frequently.
against encephalitis and avoiding exposure to mosquitoes and ticks can also
help. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing severe photophobia or for
more suggestions to reduce your symptoms.