The condition of photophobia or light sensitivity, is one wherein you are unable to tolerate light at levels that most people would find acceptable. The result is that any standard light source, from headlights, to street lamps, sunlight, fluorescent lights, and fires, could cause you pain and discomfort. Symptoms are experienced at different levels. Some people will only suffer when lights are particularly bright, but in rare cases, any source of light is extremely uncomfortable.
The Symptoms of Photophobia
Photophobia often has various causes. In some people, it happens as a side effect of taking a specific medication or undergoing a surgery. In addition, it may be a response to some other eye irritation. Treating the condition often involves simply looking for a way to address the underlying cause. In rare instances, however, there may be natural factors causing your photophobia condition that cannot be cured.
The first step in figuring out what is causing your photophobia is looking at your symptoms. When you have eyes that are sensitive to light, the signals that your retinas send to your brain can be incorrectly interpreted as discomfort or pain. The stronger the light source is, the more likely you are to experience a significant amount of discomfort. Many people find that their photophobia prompts a need to close and squint the eyes, and this problem is also accompanied by a range of other symptoms, such as headaches or even migraines.
Most cases of photophobia cause mild, severe, or moderate instances of pain when the eyes are exposed to either man-made or natural light sources. This can take place outdoors or indoors, and might prompt an itching or burning sensation, alongside 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 water.
Some signs that your light sensitivity may have become more significant include:
- Pain in the eyes
- A desire to squint
- Excessively watery eyes
- Neck stiffness
- Need to frequently close eyes or blink
- Burning sensation in the eyes
Finding the Causes of Photophobia
Most experts agree that if your light sensitivity has been caused by an underlying condition, then the best treatment will be to find that cause and remove it, so that your eye can be less sensitive. In most circumstances, photophobia is not regarded to be an actual eye disease but a symptom of many possible conditions. For instance, many doctors consider photophobia as a result of external factors and natural factors. The causes can vary drastically from one patient to the next, and this eye condition can be caused by several disorders that impact your eyes or nervous system. In fact, a simple abnormality in your visual system might lead to light sensitivity. For instance:
- Too much light is being allowed to enter your eyes. This can happen if you suffer from an eye condition like retinal damage or corneal abrasion. In some cases, excessive light may enter the eyes when your pupils are unable to naturally constrict and reduce exposure due to nerve damage.
- The photoreceptors in the retinas are over stimulated.
- There is an abnormal increase in the level of electric impulses that the optic nerve is exposed to.
- Additional responses in your central nervous system can sometimes lead to photophobia.
Natural causes of photophobia might include:
- Particularly large pupils. The pupil is the black portion in your 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 might also be more sensitive to light. Melanin is the pigment that is known for giving the eye and skin dark colors. Other than 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 that they are exposed to.
- Any time of sound or light stimulant can be incredibly painful to people who suffer from migraines, which can cause both hyperacusis and photophobia. This is the reason why people who are experiencing migraines generally prefer to stay in quiet and dark rooms.
These natural causes of photophobia cannot generally be fixed because they are a standard part of what makes you, you. However, external causes like the following can sometimes be met with some treatment options:
- Cataracts – clouding of the lens can be fixed using cataracts surgery
- Refractive surgery – this can cause patients to be intolerable to light for weeks, and this needs to be addressed with medication.
- Deficiency of lutein and beta carotene – taking supplements and making dietary changes can help to act as a treatment.
- Dry eye syndrome – this condition makes the cornea more sensitive to the light as nerves are exposed to the dryness. Artificial tears can help to address the problem.
- Computer vision syndrome – as people generally blink less when using a computer for an extended period of time, this can lead to greater light absorption and dry eye symptoms.
- Glaucoma – elevated eye pressure can sometimes be treat using a variety of solutions, particularly when it is recognized early.
- Side effects from medications – Certain drugs such as antihistamines, anti-depressants, and various other blood pressure medications can lead to photophobia. Simply changing medications can sometimes be enough to reduce the symptoms in this case.
Problems of photophobia that occur as a result of exposure to certain medications are more common than most people think. If you ever read through the drug label or instructions before you take a medication prescribed to you by your doctor, you will probably find that both prescription and over the counter medications often include increased light sensitivity as a side effect. The reason for this is that many medications are able to alter the nervous system which can cause the pupil to become larger, therefore allowing more light into the eye. Common medications that are known to cause photophobia include antibiotics like doxycycline and tetracycline, antiviral drugs like trifluridine and idoxuridine, and motion sickness drugs like scopolamine. Diabetic drugs can also have an impact on light sensitivity, alongside various medications that are responsible for dilating the pupil.
The best way for photophobia to be treated, as mentioned above, is to find and resolve the underlying the problem. Of course, there are some photophobic individuals out there that are naturally sensitive to brighter lights. Medical experts suggest that these individuals should do what they can to avoid harsh light substances as much as possible, by wearing sunglasses and hats that come with ultra violet protection. You can also wear prosthetic contact lenses that are designed and colored in a way to mask the various flaws in your eyes. These lenses can improve your eyes appearance by removing the disfigurement caused by eye diseases, as well as making your eyes more able to cope with light.
Some people may also use photochromic lenses. When these lenses come into contact with natural sunlight or man-made light they automatically darken to protect your eyes. Photophobia treatment with these lenses is often recommended for patients with mild sensitivity.
In some cases, ophthalmologists may suggest wearing polarized sunglasses when you plan to go out in bright sunlight. Other treatment options include:
- Taking supplements and adapting your diet to deal with vitamin deficiencies. Sensitivity to light is a common problem with people who have low levels of vitamins B and A, so supplementation can be useful.
- Eat more almonds and cheese, which contain riboflavin. This substance has been found to be useful in migraine sufferers where photophobia is a typical symptom.
- Eat foods with carotenoids. Carotenoids like zeaxanthin and lutein have been found to be useful in reducing the symptoms of light sensitivity, as well as various other eye problems. These substances can be found in dark green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits.
Resources and References:
Sensitivity to Light – Causes, symptoms and treatment of photophobia (NaturalEyeCare.com)
What Is Photophobia – Definition, symptoms, causes and treatment of photophobia (Glarminy.com)
Photophobia – Photophobia symptoms and signs (MedicineNet.com)