Photophobia

ExitCare ImagePhotophobia is an extreme sensitivity to light. Sunlight or light from light bulbs can make your eyes hurt. You might have to squint or cover your eyes, even in dim light. It also can take a long time for your eyes to adjust from low light to bright light. Photophobia is not a disease. It is a symptom or sign of another problem. It can happen in one or both eyes.

CAUSES

Causes that are related directly to the eyes:

  • Irritation from contact lenses.

  • A foreign body on the surface of the eye.

  • Any injury or irritation to cornea.

  • An eye injury.

  • Excessive dryness of the eyes.

  • An eye infection.

  • Redness, soreness, and swelling (inflammation) internal to the eye (iritis or uveitis).

  • Certain eye diseases or disorders that cause light to be splayed out or cause glare (certain types of cataracts).

  • Swelling of the cornea.

  • Very high pressure inside the eyes.

Other causes that are not related directly to the eyes:

  • Migraine headaches.

  • An infection of the fluid and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

  • A head injury.

  • Brain tumors.

  • Certain eyedrops, drugs, or other medications (some antibiotics, atropine, scopolamine, amphetamines, and cocaine).

DIAGNOSIS

An examination by an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) will be needed. If no cause of photophobia is found after a complete ophthalmological examination, you may need a full medical evaluation. To decide what is causing your photophobia:

  • A medical history may be taken.

  • A physical exam may be performed. This may include:

  • Blood tests.

  • Using special machines to take images or pictures of the skull and brain (imaging scans).

  • A test that checks the fluid around the brain and spinal cord (lumbar puncture).

TREATMENT

Treatment depends on the cause of photophobia. Any diseases or disorders of the eyes causing photophobia will be treated by an ophthalmologist. If the cause of photophobia is due to a medical disorder or medication, treatment will be targeted at the underlying problem. Treatment may include:

  • Using eyedrops to soothe and moisten the eyes (if the cause of photophobia is dryness).

  • Staying away from flickering lights. This is especially true for people who get migraines.

  • Taking medication as directed to ease headaches or neck pain.

You may get relief of light sensitivity while being treated if you:

  • Avoid bright lights.

  • Protect your eyes from the light. You could wear an eye patch, sunglasses, or a hat with a wide brim when you are outside.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You experience pain in one or both eyes in addition to light sensitivity.

  • Your eyes become dry or itchy.

  • Your eyes start to hurt.

  • You notice discharge from your eyes.

  • Your eyes become red.

  • Your vision becomes blurry.

  • It hurts to wear contact lenses.

  • You continue to have a headache or neck pain with photophobia.

  • You have an oral temperature above 102° F (38.9° C).