Photophobia, or light sensitivity, is an intolerance of light. Sources such as sunlight, fluorescent light and incandescent light can all cause discomfort, along with the need to squint or close your eyes. Light-sensitive people sometimes are bothered only by bright light. In extreme cases, however, any light can be irritating.
What Causes Photophobia?
Photophobia is not an eye disease, but rather classified as a common symptom that is 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. However, in more severe cases this condition causes considerable pain when your eyes are exposed to almost any type of light.
People can be sensitive to light for many different reasons. It doesn't always occur because of an eye condition, and sometimes there isn't any specific cause at all - some people are just more sensitive to light than others.
Some factors that can cause light sensitivity include:
- People who suffer from migraines often tend to experience photophobia symptoms.
- Some medications taken for other conditions may cause light sensitivity as a side effect – for example tetracycline (an antibiotic), furosemide (used to treat hypertension and edema), doxycycline (an antibiotic) and digitalis (a drug used for heart problems).
- Meningitis, a central nervous system disorder, can cause light to become painful quite quickly.
- Eye conditions that can cause photophobia include dry eye syndrome, conjunctivitis, keratoconus, keratitis, iritis and uveitis.
- Photophobia can often be associated with various conditions and diseases including albinism (lack of eye pigment), total colour deficiency (seeing only in shades of grey), botulism, rabies and mercury poisoning.
- Physical damage to the eye including a detached retina, corneal abrasions, sunburn, refractive surgery, contact lens irritation and wearing contact lenses for too long can cause light sensitivity.
- Certain rare diseases, such as the genetic disorder keratosis follicularis spinulosa decalvans (KFSD), are reported to cause photophobia.
Addressing the underlying causes of eye sensitivity is the best way to treat the condition. Once the triggering factor is treated, photophobia symptoms can be reduced or eliminated in many cases.
If you are taking a medication that causes light sensitivity, you may need to talk to your doctor about your options. For those who are naturally prone to light sensitivity, there are numerous choices that help to make everyday exposure to bright lights more comfortable. For instance, sunglasses with photochromic lenses will automatically darken in harsh sunlight and block 100% of UV rays. Polarised lenses can also provide protection from glare and bright reflections. Another simple solution is to wear a wide-brimmed hat when outside in the sunshine. For extreme cases, it is possible to wear prosthetic contact lenses that reduce the amount of light that reaches the eyes.
Whether light sensitivity accompanies migraines or whether it’s caused by an injury, disease or medication, your eye doctor is your best resource to minimise sensitivity to light. Naturally, if the root cause is another eye condition or disease, it’s important to seek urgent attention from an ophthalmologist.
If you need a qualified eye specialist to help you treat photophobia or manage the health of your eyes, contact Auckland Eye. To book an appointment with one of our highly trained and experienced ophthalmologists or optometrists call 0800 25 53 93.