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The Causes and Treatment of Light Sensitivity (Photophobia)

Eyes Sensitive to Light Light sensitivity, also called photophobia, is an abnormal intolerance to light. Those suffering from this condition may need to squint or close their eyes in the presence of sunlight or fluorescent light, and will find almost any bright light source irritating. They may also experience headaches brought on by bright light.

People with lighter colored eyes are more likely to suffer from light sensitivity than those with darker eyes as the greater amount of pigment in dark eyes has a protective effect. Photosensitivity is common in albinos.

What causes light sensitivity?
Light sensitivity is not a disease in itself, but it is usually a symptom of another problem such as:

  • A viral illness
  • Migraine headache
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Cataracts
  • Uveitis
  • Disorders of the nervous system
  • Detached retina
  • Irritation from contact lenses
  • Sunburn
  • Achromatopsia (severe color blindness)
  • Conjunctivitis (“pink eye”)
  • Keratitis
  • Iritis

It can also be a complication of refractive surgery.

Some medications, as well as illegal drugs, may bring on photophobia as a side effect, especially those containing tetracycline, doxycycline, belladonna, quinine and furosemide.

Eye conditions which involve inflammation of the iris commonly cause photosensitivity, as the iris controls the pupil size; when the muscles of the iris are inflamed, it can be painful to constrict the pupil. In addition, any condition which causes the pupil to dilate and let in an excessive amount of light can cause photosensitivity.

Treatment for Photophobia
The best way to counter light sensitivity is to diagnose and treat the cause. You may need to change your contact lenses, get treatment for an underlying condition, switch to a different medication or discontinue drug use. In the case of light sensitivity following refractive surgery, the eye may simply need time to heal, and the problem may resolve itself.

In the meantime, you can minimize your discomfort by avoiding bright sunlight and other harsh lighting environments. Wear a shady hat and sunglasses with ultraviolet protection whenever you're outdoors. Polarized sunglasses may be particularly helpful, as they will reduce glare, such as from light reflecting off water.

Prosthetic contact lenses are also available for extreme cases of photophobia. These reduce the amount of light which enters the eye, making reducing the sensitivity and increasing comfort.

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