Photophobia (light-sensitivity)

What is Photophobia (light-sensitivity)?

Some people suffer from a low tolerance of light known as photophobia, or sometimes referred to as light sensitivity. Strong flashes, sunlight, iridescent and fluorescent light can cause discomfort, prompting a person to squint, shield and close their eyes. They may also suffer from headaches and dizziness after light exposure.

Most people are fine on a day-to-day basis and are only sensitive to extremely bright light. In very rare and extreme cases, even moderate daylight can be a problem. Rockstar and U2 front man Bono are famous for his dark sunglasses, which he wears to protect his eyes from bright flashes from paparazzi cameras and stage lighting.

Causes of Photophobia (light-sensitivity)

Light sensitivity is often a symptom of other conditions such as inflammations, infections and underlying eye damage such as corneal abrasion or a detached retina. Patients who have just undergone refractive surgeries may also experience light sensitivity. Conditions that can cause photophobia as a symptom include;

Dry Eye

Dry eye is a common eye condition that occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears. The eyes lack moisture which results in a gritty feeling eyes and discomfort. Over the counter eye drops such as Blink Intensive Eyedrops can help with alleviate this.

Cataracts

Cataracts in the number one cause of visual impairments in the world. Cataracts are generally not painful and often unnoticeable in their early stages. Eventually, sufferers will notice a white cloudy growth on the eye. The clouding from the cataract may become severe enough to cause blurred vision. [1] Patients who have had their cataract removed may also experience light sensitivity after surgery.

Ocular Albinism

Ocular albinism occurs when there is a lack of pigment in the eye which affect the eye ability to block incoming light, making the eye more sensitive.

Uveitis

Uveitis occurs when the middle layer of the eye (uvea or uveal tract) is inflamed, leading to eye pain, and redness. It is, however, relatively rare. Around 2-5 in every 10,000 people are affected by uveitis in the UK every year. Uveitis affects people of any age, but most commonly between the ages of 20 and 59 years. Some children develop uveitis. [2]

Symptoms of Photophobia

Those who experience photophobia may experience one of multiple symptoms that vary in severity.

Common symptoms include;

  • squinting to block out light from entering the eyes
  • feeling dizzy, particularly in places
  • eye strain
  • pain and discomfort
  • continuous watering of the eyes
  • blinking excessively

Light sensitivity can also trigger headaches and migraines. Sufferers should go into a dark room during an attack to recover. They may also experience eye ache and nausea. If you begin to experience regular, sudden onsets of these symptoms, please visit your GP at the soonest possible occasion.

How to treat Photophobia?

The first step is to seek medical advice from an eye doctor who can properly assess and diagnose you. They’ll be able to tell if your light sensitivity is being caused by an underlying problem and recommend the right treatment. Treatment usually aims to relive symptoms.

Wearing dark sunglasses with UV protection is a good option if you’re recovering from refractive surgery. You may even be given specialised goggles or glasses to wear after your surgical procedure. Polarised sunglasses have added protection and can reduce irritable glare reflected from flat surfaces, light reflected off water, snow or the bonnets of a cars.

Large hats with a wide brim can also help shield your eyes from the sun and can be worn in addition to sunglasses.

Are there contact lenses for Photophobia?

Currently, there are no clinically approved contact lenses that can reduce the symptoms of Photophobia. While many contact lenses feature UV protection, this is not enough to stop the effects of Photophobia. You may opt for reactive prescription glasses with an anti-reflection coating.

Sources

[1] RNIB - See differently. (2019). Uveitis. [online] Available at: https://www.rnib.org.uk/eye-health/eye-conditions/uveitis  [Accessed 21 May 2019].

[2] Nei.nih.gov. (2019). Facts About Cataract | National Eye Institute. [online] Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts [Accessed 21 May 2019].

Quick links:

A guide to conjunctivitis
What are polarised sunglasses?
Protecting eyes from UV rays
Do I need an eye test?