Photophobia: How to cope with light sensitivity

Have you ever walked out of a dark movie theater in the middle of the day? Like most people, you probably squint and find the light uncomfortable for a brief period.

This is an instance of photophobia (light sensitivity). Photophobia is described as a condition where light, natural or artificial, causes an abnormal sense of pain or discomfort.

Photophobia can affect people much more dramatically, much more often and for longer periods of time than the brief experience of emerging from a movie theater. In fact, some photophobic patients have this hypersensitivity 24/7. Even certain patterns, like stripes, or flickering light will often bother photophobic sufferers. 

But there’s good news — you don’t have to live with photophobia. Here’s what you need to know if you are hypersensitive to light.

What causes photophobia?

When dealing with photophobia, the hypersensitivity to light should be recognized as a symptom and not a diagnosis. For example, if you experience repeated photophobia with headache, the photophobia serves as a symptom of migraine.

Some of the most common causes of photophobia include:

  • Migraine
  • Dry eyes
  • Blepharospasms (involuntary blinking or eyelid twitching)
  • Uveitis or iritis (forms of eye inflammation)
  • Traumatic brain injuries (like a concussion)
  • Meningitis
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

How to reduce your sensitivity to light

The appropriate first step in improving photophobia, then, consists of discovering the underlying condition. By addressing the primary cause, often the photophobia resolves, or at least reduces substantially. A good starting point includes an evaluation by an ophthalmologist or neurologist — ask your primary care doctor for a referral.

But what if you still experience photophobia despite a proper diagnosis and treatment plan? Try further reducing your photophobia by following a few tips.

“Explore."

Embrace the light.

It might be tempting, but do not surround yourself in darkness. Stop wearing your sunglasses indoors and stop hiding from light. By doing this, you are, in fact, making yourself more sensitive to light. This is the exact opposite of what you need!

You need to encounter natural and artificial light in your everyday life. Of course, for general eye protection, the recommendation of wearing sunglasses outside remains.

Related: 5 surprising reasons for your headache

Try special glasses.

Thankfully, there are some glasses lenses that have been shown to reduce the sense of discomfort and pain associated with light in those with photophobia. A type of lens known as FL-41 lenses appear rose-colored and work by blocking the blue-green wavelengths that tend to especially aggravate most light-sensitive patients. 

Usually, such lenses may be purchased relatively inexpensively from an optic shop or even online from a reputable company. Additionally, some optic shops may offer to coat your current lenses with the FL-41 filter, provided that your current glasses do not already have a coating of another type applied.

Limit screen time and blue light exposure.

Digging further into the blue-green wavelengths, flickering fluorescent lighting, LED lighting and light emitted from digital screens and electronic devices are other frequent culprits of worsening photophobia. Luckily, blue light screen filter apps are available for your devices. Some devices even have a filter option pre-loaded.

Related: How to set healthy screen time limits

Do not forget, though, that the most important way to reduce light sensitivity involves discovering the correct cause of your photophobia. That way, proper treatment can be initiated, and you can be on your way to a more light-loving life! 

Have you become sensitive to light? Find a doctor near you.

About the author

Grace Glausier
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Grace Glausier is a senior digital engagement strategist for Baylor Scott and White Health. A graduate of Baylor University, she is passionate about connecting people through powerful stories and empowering individuals toward better health.

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Photophobia: How to cope with light sensitivity