Symptoms and Causes of Photophobia and How to Treat it

Symptoms and Causes of Photophobia

Symptoms and Causes of Photophobia

Photophobia is a heightened sensitivity to light. A mild case will cause someone to squint and experience discomfort, but in more serious cases, it can cause considerable pain on exposure to almost any light. Some people can experience such pain that they try to avoid bright light. Fluorescent lights, flickering lights and striped light patterns are more likely to trigger an adverse reaction. Photophobia can affect individuals of all ages and usually affects both eyes.

What causes photophobia?

Photophobia is a common migraine symptom. In fact, it is so common that in individuals with migraines that doctors use it as one of the diagnostic criteria. Migraines can be triggered by many different factors, such as stress, certain foods, and hormonal changes. Other symptoms of migraines include nausea, vomiting and a throbbing head.

Photophobia can be quite severe when it is caused by conditions that affect the eyes, such as corneal abrasion. This is because the condition allows too much light to enter the eye. Corneal abrasion can happen when getting dirt, sand, or other substances in the eye. These substances injure the cornea, which is the eye’s outermost layer.

Some diseases that affect the immune system, like lupus, can cause inflammation of the white part of the eye (scleritis). This can cause blurred vision and painful, watery eyes.

Viruses, bacteria or allergies can cause the layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye to become inflamed or infected (conjunctivitis). Red eyes, itching and eye pain, are some of the symptoms.

Dry eyes are another common cause of light sensitivity. The tear ducts don’t make enough tears to lubricate the eyes sufficiently. Medications, age, medical conditions and environmental factors can cause dry eyes.

If you’re prone to photophobia, FL-41 tinted prescription glasses will filter the light without compromising your visibility. The lenses are tinted to block out blue light wavelengths. An FL-41 tint can be added to any lens, prescription type or strength.

What are the symptoms of photophobia?

You may feel physical discomfort or considerable pain when you experience photophobia. You may develop an aversion to light and feel that even normal light is too bright.

Your symptoms may include squinting, forehead pain, and blinking frequently. You may see bright colored spots, even when your eyes are closed. Your eyes may tear up and make it difficult to see properly. You could have difficulty reading, and your eyes may feel really dry. You may feel you want to keep your eyes closed.

You may prefer dimly lit rooms rather than brightly lit ones and prefer cloudy days to sunny days. You may even favor going out after the sun sets rather than during the day.


If you have photophobia, seeing a healthcare provider is important to identify its cause. The healthcare provider will base a diagnosis on medical history, an eye examination, and conduct more tests if necessary. Instead of just asking whether eyes are sensitive to light, they will ask whether symptoms occur at certain times or all the time. They will also want to know what other symptoms the patient experiences. A brain MRI may be indicated if there’s concern that there’s inflammation or infection of the brain.


The focus of treatment for photophobia is to alleviate the underlying conditions that could be causing it. If the condition causing the photophobia improves, the photophobia will improve too.

If migraines are the cause, they may improve with medication and rest. If the photophobia is caused by cataracts, surgery may be necessary. If glaucoma is causing the symptoms, medication or surgery could help.

Photophobia can also indicate a serious medical problem. If you’re experiencing severe light sensitivity, it could be due to some conditions that affect the brain, such as encephalitis and meningitis. In mild cases, you will need anti-inflammatory medication, bed rest and fluids. Antibiotics can clear up bacterial meningitis. Viral meningitis doesn’t respond to antibiotics and will get better on its own.

While an underlying condition is receiving treatment, it could take a while for photophobia to improve. In the interim, it is possible to help relieve the symptoms.

  • Eye drops can improve scleritis.
  • Antibiotics are necessary for the treatment of conjunctivitis.
  • Antibiotic eye drops help to treat corneal abrasions.
  • Artificial tears can improve mild dry eye syndrome.
  • Pain medication to reduce pain.


Some of the ways to prevent photophobia include:

  • Wearing a cap and glare-reducing sunglasses outside.
  • Reducing the brightness setting of electronic devices.
  • Using specialized lenses to filter out the most problematic wavelengths.
  • Slowly building up exposure to light to increase tolerance.

Remember that photophobia could be the result of a serious medical or eye condition, and you need to see a health practitioner determine its cause.