Photophobia: Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

This condition, also called sensitivity to light, is one in which light cannot be tolerated at levels that for most people are considered acceptable.

The result is that any standard light source – from headlights, streetlights, sunlight, fluorescent lights, and fires – could cause you pain and discomfort. Symptoms are experienced at different levels.

Some people will only suffer when the lights are particularly bright, but in rare cases any source of light is extremely uncomfortable.

Causes of photophobia

Most experts agree that if your sensitivity to light has been caused by an underlying condition, then the best treatment will be to find that cause and eliminate it, so that the eye can be less sensitive.

In most cases, photophobia is not considered an actual eye disease , but rather a symptom of many possible conditions.

For example, many doctors consider photophobia as a result of external factors and natural factors.

Causes can vary dramatically from patient to patient, and this eye condition can be caused by various disorders that affect the eyes or the nervous system.

In fact, a simple abnormality in the visual system can lead to sensitivity to light. For instance:

  • When too much light is allowed to enter the eyes. This can happen if you have an eye condition such as damage to the retina or a corneal abrasion.
  • In some cases, excessive light can enter the eyes when the pupils cannot naturally contract and reduce exposure due to nerve damage.
  • When the retinal photoreceptors are overstimulated.
  • When there is an abnormal increase in the level of electrical impulses to which the optic nerve is exposed.
  • When there are additional responses in the central nervous system.

Natural causes of photophobia can include:

  • Particularly large pupils: The pupil is the black part of the eye that is responsible for regulating the level of light that is allowed to enter the eye at any given time. The pupil naturally adapts to the amount of light. People who have larger pupils are automatically more sensitive to light.
  • Light-colored eyes: People who have light-colored eyes may also be more sensitive to light. Melanin is the pigment that gives the skin and eyes dark colors. In addition to this color, melanin is also useful for absorbing light, and people with lighter eyes have less melanin in their system to absorb some of the light they are exposed to.
  • Any sound stimulation can be incredibly painful for people with migraines, which can cause both hyperacusis and photophobia. This is the reason why people who experience migraines generally prefer to stay in quiet, dark rooms.

In general, these natural causes of photophobia cannot be corrected because they are characteristics of the individual.

However, external causes such as the following can sometimes be found with some treatment options:

  • Cataracts: Lens clouding can be corrected with cataract surgery.
  • Refractive surgery : This can make patients intolerable to light for weeks, and this must be addressed with medication.
  • Lutein and beta carotene deficiency: Taking supplements and making dietary changes can help act as a treatment.
  • Dry eye syndrome: This condition makes the cornea more sensitive to light as the nerves are exposed to dryness. Artificial tears can help address the problem.
  • Computer Vision Syndrome: Because people generally blink less when using a computer for a long period of time, this can lead to increased light absorption and dry eye symptoms.
  • The glaucoma : elevated eye pressure sometimes can be treated using a variety of solutions, particularly when recognized early.
  • Medication Side Effects: Certain medications such as antihistamines , antidepressants, and other blood pressure medications can lead to photophobia. Simply changing medications can sometimes be enough to reduce symptoms in this case.

Photophobia problems that occur as a result of exposure to certain medications are more common than most people think.

The label or instructions for a drug, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs, often list increased sensitivity to light as a side effect.

The reason for this is that many medications can alter the nervous system, which can cause the pupil to enlarge and therefore allow more light to enter the eye.

Common medications known to cause photophobia include antibiotics such as doxycycline and tetracycline, antiviral medications such as trifluridine and idoxuridine, and motion sickness medications such as scopolamine.

Diabetic drugs can also have an impact on sensitivity to light, along with various medications that are responsible for dilating the pupil.


The first step in finding out what is causing your photophobia is looking at your symptoms.

When you have eyes that are sensitive to light, the signals that the retinas send to the brain can be misinterpreted as discomfort or pain.

The stronger the light source, the more likely you are to experience a significant amount of discomfort.

Many people find that their photophobia causes the urge to close and squint, and this problem is also accompanied by a variety of other symptoms, such as headaches or even migraines.

Photophobia can occur outdoors or indoors, and can cause an itching or burning sensation, along with squinting in the presence of light, causing the person to wince.

Some people even find that they suffer from excessive tear production that causes their eyes to fill with water.

Some signs that your sensitivity to light may have become more important include:

  • Eye pain.
  • Headache.
  • Excessively watery eyes.
  • Neck stiffness.
  • Need to frequently close eyes or blink.
  • Burning sensation in the eyes.

Treatment of photophobia

The best way to treat photophobia is to find and solve the underlying problem.

Of course, there are some photophobic people who are naturally sensitive to the brightest lights.

Medical experts suggest that these people should do everything possible to avoid direct exposure as much as possible by wearing sunglasses and hats with UV protection.

You can also wear prosthetic contact lenses that are designed and colored in a way that masks the various defects in your eyes.

These lenses can improve the appearance of the eyes by eliminating disfigurement caused by eye diseases, as well as making the eyes better able to deal with light.

Some people can also wear photochromic lenses. When these lenses come in contact with natural sunlight or artificial light, they automatically darken to protect the eyes.

Treatment of photophobia with these lenses is often recommended for patients with mild sensitivity.

Other treatment options include:

  • Taking supplements and adapting your diet to deal with vitamin deficiencies: Sensitivity to light is a common problem among people who have low levels of vitamins B and A, so supplementation can be helpful.
  • Eat more almonds and cheese, which contain riboflavin: This substance has been found to be helpful in migraine patients, where photophobia is a typical symptom.
  • Eating foods with carotenoids: Carotenoids such as zeaxanthin and lutein have been found to be helpful in reducing symptoms of light sensitivity, as well as other eye problems. These substances can be found in dark green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits.