Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity (also known as the medical term “photophobia”) is something that many people experience, and for some of those people it can be quite debilitating. When you have light sensitivity, this means that you are hypersensitive (or intolerant) to various sources of light, including sunlight as well as incandescent and fluorescent lighting. In many cases, those who are sensitive to light will usually say that they are only bothered by bright lighting. However, it is possible to be affected by all types of lighting, whether dim or bright.

Certain types of lighting will impact your eyes differently. Fluorescent lighting with a high amount of blue light, for example, is known to cause an increase in not just general light sensitivity, but can also cause an increase in eye strain, as well as cause headaches and migraines; while overall bright lighting can also trigger light sensitivity and other symptoms. If you have pre-existing eye conditions such as dry eye or uveitis, or are already someone who is sensitive to light, these conditions can be exacerbated by it. Other eye-related conditions can also develop. For example, you may find that you are squinting more and have diminished proficiency in reading, or you could develop eye inflammation. If you do happen to have a pre-existing eye condition that puts you at risk of being more susceptible to light sensitivity, make sure that you are getting the appropriate treatment for said condition. If you’re unsure whether or not you have a pre-existing eye condition, it would be a good idea to book a complete eye examination with your optometrist just to make sure that your eyes are in good health.

As many workplaces have fluorescent lighting which can also impact your eyes, you may want to talk with your boss about it — especially if it is getting in the way of your ability to be productive with your job. You could suggest working in an alternate location within the office, or ask if there can be anything done to dim the lighting. If no alternative steps have been taken to remedy the problematic lighting, you may need to speak with your HR department.

As for what causes photophobia, underlying eye conditions, as mentioned, tend to have the most impact on whether or not someone will develop it. Individuals who have a lighter eye colour, such as blue or green eyes, area also at a higher risk of being sensitive to light. This is because the lighter your eyes are, the less pigment they have, which means your eyes are not as protected against harsh lighting. You can also develop photophobia if you have a corneal abrasion, or if you’ve developed a condition that affects the central nervous system, such as meningitis. Light sensitivity is also a side effect of certain medications, including tetracycline, doxycycline and furosemide, just to name a few.

When it comes to treating photophobia, the best course of action is to treat any underlying causes. Once an underlying cause is treated, you may notice a significant improvement in how your eyes respond to different lighting. If you’re someone who is naturally sensitive to light, then you should try your best to avoid sources of harsh light. If know that you are going to be exposed to it, then you should do everything you can to keep your eyes as protected as possible — such as wearing sunglasses with added UV protection, as well as wearing wide-brimmed hats. Because you can also develop eye irritation as a result of being light-sensitive, you can also try to reduce irritation with artificial tear drops, which will help keep your eyes lubricated and, at the very least, provide you with some temporary relief.

Originally published at on May 9, 2019.



Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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