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Learn about your sensitivity to light, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your sensitivity to light from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

Sensitivity to Light Checker

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Your Sensitivity to Light May Also be Known as:
Aversion to lights
Discomfort with light
Discomfort with lights
Eyes that are sensitive to light
Fear of light
Fear of lights
Light aversion
Light hurts
Photophobia
Photosensitive eyes

Sensitivity to Light Symptoms

Sensitivity to light is a common symptom – sometimes the first symptom – of trouble with your eyes. Aversion to light is actually the eye's way of protecting itself when it is injured or infected, because your eye has a better chance of healing itself when at rest.

Sensitivity to light, or photophobia, means intolerance to light – not the fear of it.

Characteristics:

  • Pain or discomfort in your eyes while you're in the presence of almost any light source, from bright sun to glaring fluorescents to normal household incandescent light.
  • Squinting, closing your eyes, and turning your head away from all but the lowest light.
  • Staying in darkened rooms.
  • Wearing dark sunglasses and sunhats if you go outside.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Excessive tear production.
  • Finding it difficult to work, since most jobs require bright light.

Duration:

  • The steps you take to ease your sensitivity – avoiding bright light, wearing sunglasses indoors, etc. – can actually make the condition worse by lessening your tolerance to light even more and prolonging it indefinitely.
  • Sensitivity to light symptoms will not resolve until the underlying cause is treated.

Who is most often affected by sensitivity to light symptoms?

  • If you have light-colored eyes – which cannot block the light as well – you are more likely to be affected than those with darker eyes.
  • If you have albinism, you will be overly sensitive to light.
  • Anyone with any condition that results in "dry eye."

Where in the world are these sensitivity to light symptoms most common?

  • Warm, humid regions have more people swimming while wearing contact lenses, especially in rivers, lakes, and seas, and thus being more susceptible to eye infection and injury.
  • Being sensitive to light can be most difficult in very bright and sunny places, of course, though it can happen anywhere.

When are sensitivity to light symptoms most likely to occur? The daylight hours will be the most troublesome, but artificial lights are bright and ever-present – especially if you work a night job.

Are sensitivity to light symptoms serious?

  • Sensitivity to light due to mild allergy or mild illness is not serious, as long as it clears on its own once the allergy or illness has resolved.
  • A chronic case can interfere with activities of daily living and quality of life, making both working and socializing increasingly difficult.
  • A severe case may be a symptom of more serious illness and can lead to loss of vision.

Sensitivity to Light Causes Overview

Many conditions can have sensitivity to light as a symptom. Most of those are things that cause dry eye, which is the primary reason for photophobia.

The most common sensitivity to light cause types are infectious diseases:

  • Bacterial infections which cause inflammation in any part of your eye, from the outer eyelids to the inner structures.
  • Viral infections:

    • Those that infect only your eye.
    • Systemic viral infections affecting your entire body that make you generally feel ill while also causing eye symptoms.
  • Fungal infections of the cornea.
  • Parasitic infections of the cornea.

Less common sensitivity to light cause types are other conditions affecting your eye:

  • Conditions that allow too much light into your eye:

    • Inability of your pupil to close properly, from corneal abrasion and retinal damage or from damage to the oculomotor nerve.
    • Lack of pigment in your iris, especially with albinism.
    • Having no iris at all.
    • Pupillary dilation. This may be natural or may be artificially done for an eye examination.
  • Injury:

    • An abrasion, laceration, foreign body, or chemical injury to the cornea.
    • Bleeding within the eye.
    • Retinal detachment.
    • Scarring of your cornea or sclera, either from disease or injury.

Progressive, hereditary, and autoimmune conditions can all cause sensitivity to light symptoms:

  • Progressive eye disorders slowly cause deformity and loss of function in the structures of your eye.
  • Hereditary conditions cause malformation of eye structures, or the structures may be missing altogether.
  • Autoimmune disorders cause the body to turn against itself and damage its own structures.

Other general sensitivity to light cause types:

  • Allergies, because they cause very dry and irritated eyes.

  • Medications, most commonly:

    • Anticholinergic drugs, which impact the iris sphincter muscle.
    • Benzodiazepines, especially after long use.
    • Withdrawal from many kinds of drugs.
    • Chemotherapy.
  • Nutritional deficiencies:

    • Magnesium deficiency.
    • Deficiency of riboflavin (vitamin B2.)
  • Nervous system disorders:

    • Autism spectrum, due to difficulty processing sensory information.

    • The post-ictal state following a seizure.

    • Brain disorders:

    • Severe headache and other forms of head pain.

    • Damage and/or bleeding within the brain from trauma, hemorrhage, tumor, or congenital malformation.

Top 10 Sensitivity to Light Causes

  1. 1.Chronically Dry Eyes

    Dry eye syndrome (medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca), occurs when there is a problem with the thin film of tears that keeps the eye moist and lubriated. This is a condition that can affect people of all ages, but becomes more common as one gets older. The causes include aging, some medications, increased evaporation of tears (due to low humidity in the air, low blink frequency, wearing contact lenses, or windy conditions), and underlying illness in rare cases.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own with artificial tears, which come as eye drops and gels, and are usually great at relieving symptoms. You can purchase these at a pharmacy. You might want to consider consulting your primary care physician (PCP) if over-the-counter remedies don't help.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dry eyes, dry mouth, feeling of something in the eye, eye pain, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with chronically dry eyes:
    dry eyes
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)

    Blepharitis is an eyelid issue where the skin, lashes, or glands become inflamed from an irritant or infection.

    You should use an eyelid scrub and warm compresses. It's important to keep your eyelids clean going forward.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sensitivity to light, eye itch, eye redness, dry eyes, feeling of something in the eye
    Symptoms that never occur with inflamed eyelid (blepharitis):
    severe eye pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Hangover

    Hangovers occur after consuming alcohol. People often wake up the morning after a night of drinking feeling a general feeling of sickness and fatigue. The unpleasant symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration.

    You will begin to feel better in a few hours. Rehydrating with fluids, most importantly water, and taking an over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) will help with your symptoms.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), fatigue, nausea or vomiting, headache, diarrhea
    Symptoms that never occur with hangover:
    being severely ill, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Concussion Not Needing Imaging

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

    You do not need to seek immediate medical care. Make sure your symptoms do not change. If they do, go immediately to the ER. If not, follow-up with the doctor in the coming days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood, trouble sleeping
    Symptoms that always occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    head or face injury
    Symptoms that never occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    recent fall from 6 feet or higher, severe vomiting, posttraumatic amnesia over 30 minutes, slurred speech, fainting, moderate vomiting
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.New Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    You can safely treat this condition on your own. Migraines are diagnosed purely by your symptoms. Medications, such as over-the-counter pain killers (e.g., ibuprofen or Tylenol) may help. However, it is important not to take them too regularly. Taking them more than two or three times a week can cause more headaches, as the body gets used to the drug, and the headache comes back when you stop taking the medication. Talk to a doctor if you have two or more migraines each month, as there are more effective treatments for preventing migraines.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, fatigue, nausea, mild headache, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with new migraine:
    new headache
    Symptoms that never occur with new migraine:
    fever, diarrhea, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Sensitivity to Light Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having sensitivity to light.

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  6. 6.Recurrent Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraines are diagnosed purely by your symptoms. Talk to a doctor if you have two or more migraines each month, as there are more effective treatments for preventing migraines. Medications, such as over-the-counter pain killers (e.g., ibuprofen or Tylenol) may help. However, it is important not to take them too regularly. Taking them more than two or three times a week can cause more headaches, as the body gets used to the drug, and the headache comes back when you stop taking the medication.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, fatigue, history of headaches, nausea, mild headache
    Symptoms that always occur with recurrent migraine:
    headache, history of headaches
    Symptoms that never occur with recurrent migraine:
    fever, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Exertion Headache

    An exertion or activity-related headache occurs as a result of strenuous activity. This type of headache is often triggered by exercise.

    Your headache is benign. It can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, headache with a pressing or tightening quality, headache near both temples
    Symptoms that always occur with exertion headache:
    headache
    Symptoms that never occur with exertion headache:
    vomiting, double vision, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  8. 8.Concussion Not Needing Imaging

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

    You should have your symptoms checked today, just to be sure. Most likely, a referral or a CT scan of the head is not needed, but a physician can make the best judgement on that. If your symptoms change or worsen, go immediately to the ER.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, difficulty concentrating, blurry vision
    Symptoms that always occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    brief fainting episode, head or face injury
    Symptoms that never occur with concussion not needing imaging:
    recent fall from 6 feet or higher, severe vomiting, bleeding from the ear, moderate vomiting
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  9. 9.Concussion (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) Needing Imaging

    Mild traumatic brain injury requiring imaging is defined as being fairly responsive after an injury to the head but with enough warning signs that a picture of the inside of the skull needs to be taken.

    You should go to the emergency room as soon as possible (within the next hour). The risk factors and symptoms around your injury make it possible that something serious is developing within your skull, and thus, a picture needs to be taken.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea or vomiting, dizziness, sensitivity to light, difficulty concentrating, frequent mood swings
    Symptoms that always occur with concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) needing imaging:
    head or face injury
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  10. 10.Cataract

    A cataract is clouding of the eye's lens that leads to decreased vision. It typically develops slowly over time.

    You should go see your primary care doctor, who can do an exam and refer you to an ophthalmologist, if necessary.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vision changes, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, double vision, altered color perception
    Symptoms that always occur with cataract:
    vision changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Sensitivity to Light Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if you have:

  • Sudden vision loss in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden and extreme sensitivity to light in one or both eyes, especially if you also have pain in your eye.
  • Any traumatic injury to your eye, even if it seems minor.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Moderate sensitivity to light in one or both eyes that does not clear up within 24 hours, because this can be a symptom of many different eye problems.
  • Mild sensitivity with other symptoms such as irritation, discharge, or mild eye pain.

Sensitivity to Light Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Resting the eye by staying out of bright light and wearing sunglasses or a patch.
  • Cold compresses.
  • Over-the-counter eyedrops may ease dryness and help temporarily.

FAQs About Sensitivity to Light

Here are some frequently asked questions about sensitivity to light.

Can sensitivity to light cause dizziness?

No. Light sensitivity (photophobia) is not known to cause dizziness. More commonly, a single problem will cause dizziness and light sensitivity. Diseases like multiple sclerosis, viruses like summer flu, herpes or rabies can also cause light sensitivity with other symptoms like flu, confusion, nausea, or vomiting. The most common cause of light sensitivity is lack of sleep, and this light sensitivity commonly dissipates.

Why am I sensitive to light when I have a headache?

It is unclear why photophobia or sensitivity to light is caused by headaches. Research suggests that inflammation near or involving one of the nerves that supplies sensation to the eyes may cause photophobia. The involved nerve is the trigeminal nerve. This may explain why anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or other NSAIDs can help treat inflammation of the trigeminal nerve.

Why do I suddenly experience sensitivity to light?

Sudden sensitivity to light can occur following an acute injury to the eye. For example, trauma to the eye by a football or baseball can depress the eye and cause pain and photophobia, as light causes muscles in the eye to constrict and this can cause pain. Additionally, viral illness or chemicals that enter the eye can also cause sudden sensitivity to light. Finally, a direct abrasion or scratch of the eye can cause photophobia as well if the eye becomes inflamed. More commonly however, this causes a feeling of "grittiness" in the eye. Photophobia is also a symptom of meningitis but usually with other symptoms such as a stiff neck, nausea, fever or lethargy.

Can dry eyes make you sensitive to light?

Dry eyes do not cause sensitivity to light. They often cause a feeling of dirt or some other irritant in the eye and should be managed with external eye drops or a visit to your physician to evaluate for an underlying problem. Dry eyes may cause a person to want to keep their eyes closed to keep them moist and covered, as dry eyes are also more prone to injury.

Can anxiety cause light sensitivity?

No. Anxiety does not cause light sensitivity. Light sensitivity can be caused by migraine headaches, hangovers, viral illnesses (especially in children), meningitis, corneal abrasions, or even inflammation of different parts of the eye by infections (conjunctivitis, keratitis). Generally, lighter colored eyes may have more natural sensitivity to light than darker colored eyes.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sensitivity to Light

  • Q.How severe is your headache?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, check our sensitivity to light symptom checker.

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Sensitivity to Light Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced sensitivity to light have also experienced:

    • 11% Nausea
    • 10% Headache
    • 6% Throbbing Headache
  • People who have experienced sensitivity to light were most often matched with:

    • 7% Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)
    • 1% Chronically Dry Eyes
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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    Sensitivity to Light Checker

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