Photophobia: Definition, Causes and Treatment
While the term “photophobia” literally translates to “fear of light” what it actually describes is a less dramatic “sensitivity to light”. People who suffer this condition are typically sensitive to bright sunlight, harsh fluorescent light, light from the TV and other sources. Some experience headaches along with the sensitivity, while others only feel a need to squint or close their eyes.
Causes of Photophobia
Photophobia occurs when there is a disconnect between the cells in your eyes that detect light and the nerve that transmits that light information to the brain. The most common cause of photophobia is migraines, but it is hardly the only one. Other common causes of photophobia include:
- Cluster headaches.
- Dry eyes.
- Swelling of the cornea (keratitis).
- A scratch on the cornea.
- Damaged retina.
Other medical and psychological conditions that may cause photophobia include:
- Brain injury.
- Pituitary gland tumours.
- Bipolar disorder.
In addition antibiotics, quinine and LASIK surgery have also been known to produce photophobia.
If you are suffering from light sensitivity whether indoors or out, all the time or just occasionally, see your eye doctor. He’ll ask you about your symptoms and whether or not you have any other known conditions that may be causing your problem. He may also conduct certain tests, including:
- The slit-lamp exam - During this exam your eyes are inspected using a specially designed microscope.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging - The MRI employs magnets and radio waves to create a detailed image of your eyes.
- Tear duct exam - This test is intended to see if your tear ducts are producing an adequate amount of fluid.
The most effective way to treat this vexing condition is to uncover and address the underlying cause. For instance:
- Your photophobia may be linked to a specific medicine you have recently begun taking. However, it may not be possible or wise to stop taking that medication (such as if you’re taking antibiotics to fight a serious infection). Discuss the situation with your doctor. They may be able to prescribe an alternative that will be just as effective but won’t cause photophobia.
- If it seems your photophobia may be related to emotional issues it would be wise to seek professional help for those issues. As noted above anxiety, bipolar disorder and depression are all considered possible triggers for light sensitivity. By addressing the underlying emotional issues it is possible your photophobia may subside.
- If there are no obvious medical or emotional causes for your photophobia but it seems you are simply predisposed to being light-sensitive you may consider tinted glasses with photochromic lenses. They will block 100% of the UV rays from the sun and may go a long way toward alleviating your condition. There are also many contact lenses that can filter 80-95% of UV rays, should that be more suitable.
Finally, if your photophobia is related to migraines the best course of action is to see if you can ascertain the source of those migraines. It may not always be possible to “cure” photophobia, but it may be possible to greatly reduce its effects.