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Photophobia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

Photophobia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

June 24, 2024

We leave home and the sunlight blinds us, having to wait a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the level of brightness. At night they focus on us with a lamp or flashlight in their eyes and close them, again annoyed and with somewhat irritated eyes.

These are situations that we have all experienced on occasion and in which the level of light has produced a certain sensation of discomfort. Although it is usually normal, there are many people for whom exposure to light is a common annoyance or who are especially sensitive to it. It's about those who suffer from photophobia .

  • Related article: "The 16 most common mental disorders"

What is photophobia?

Photophobia is considered to be the presence of a high sensitivity to light stimulation that generates a sensation of pain or discomfort with exposure to sources of variable intensity lighting. The sufferer finds the luminosity of some stimulant sources annoying. It can appear in varying degrees, ranging from a superficial annoyance to very intense light sources to the intolerance of most light sources.

These light sources can be both natural and artificial. It is usually noticed especially in situations where there is a sudden transition between environments with different luminosities.

When exposed to intense light sources, the subject usually feels the need to close the eyes, tearing and redness of the eyes. It is frequent that the subject with photophobia present symptoms such as dizziness, headache (being this very prevalent), vision problems or gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and even vomiting.

Symptoms and effects

This can generate the presence of alterations in the daily life of the person with photophobia , being able to generate social and even work adaptive problems (for example, in front of the light emitted by computers) that entail behavioral avoidance, isolation or feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem in the face of the consequences of photophobia. It can also generate situations of great danger in view of the ease of being dazzled in environments where heavy machinery is being used or requires great precision and oculomanual coordination.

Photophobia is a very common problem that is usually not caused by any condition and does not pose a major problem, but occasionally and especially when it appears suddenly or at low levels of illumination can be linked to the presence of another alteration of varying severity, being then a symptom of a disorder to be treated.

Possible causes and contexts of appearance

It is considered that photophobia is caused mainly by the activation of nociceptors or pain receptors coming from the trigeminal nerve in the presence of excessive luminosity. This activation is what causes the sensation of discomfort and eye pain that occurs before the light exposure .

Among the elements that can generate such activation we usually find in the first place the presence of problems or diseases of the eyeball itself such as the presence of conjunctivitis, inflammation of the eye due to an infection such as herpes, diseases such as glaucoma or cataracts or the presence of injuries, scratches, surgical wounds or burns (including those arising from prolonged exposure to sunlight). The usual use of contact lenses facilitates their appearance. It also usually appears after performing eye surgeries.

In addition to alterations directly linked to the eye, it is possible and usual that photophobia occurs before elements, injuries and diseases that affect the brain . An example is found in meningitis, or in meningeal or cerebral tumors. It is also common in people with migraine (photophobia being the reason why they tend to lock themselves in the dark until the headache passes). It is common in other situations such as intoxication by drugs or alcohol (in the hangover is quite common) or substance poisoning. Other diseases such as botulism or measles can also generate it.

But not only do we find elements linked to disorders and injuries, but there are also innate and non-harmful biological variables that also influence the probability of suffering from photophobia. One of them is the pigmentation of the eyes: it has been shown that those with light colored eyes tend to be more intolerant of light intensity. The same happens with people with albinism. It is also very common that with age, before the aging of the eye appears a certain degree of photophobia. Finally, it can also appear when certain medications are used, such as those that cause pupillary dilation or some antibiotics.


The treatment of photophobia should take into account that the first thing is to determine its causes, since in some cases it could be derived from serious health problems. In general, the type of treatment will be linked to the phenomenon or cause of its appearance .

If it is due to an infection, it is usual the use of eye drops with antibiotic content that can stop it, as well as anti-inflammatories. In the case of problems such as cataracts or glaucoma it may be necessary to resort to surgery.

In the case of tumors in the eye or brain, resection or removal by surgery, radio and / or chemotherapy can greatly reduce the symptoms. If the photophobia occurs before injuries, surgical wounds or abrasions, it will be necessary to perform the specific treatment for each type of injury. In some cases, such as a superficial wound or after surgery, the problem will eventually resolve.

In any case, in all cases it is advisable to avoid exposure to intense lights, often prescribing the use of sunglasses both outdoors and indoors. It is also usual to indicate the need to lower the light level of the usual environment if this gives problems. It is necessary that the eye be clean and properly hydrated, resorting to artificial tears if necessary. The consumption of vitamin B12 in our usual diet is also recommended. If it occurs by itself and in the absence of another medical condition that causes it and should be treated, it may be useful and advisable to apply desensitization procedures so that the patient can gradually support a greater luminosity.

Given that it is not uncommon for some of these people photophobia and the measures taken for it suppose a level of alteration of their life, The application of psychological therapy may be necessary in cases of depressive or anxiety symptoms . Likewise, depending on the conditions for which it occurs (for example, a brain tumor), psychological counseling and psychoeducation of the affected person and their environment may also be useful.

Bibliographic references:

  • Sharma, R. & Brunette, D.D. (2014). Ophthalmology. In: Marx, J.A., Hockberger, R.S .; Walls, R.M. and cols. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.
  • Kanski, J.J. (2004). Clinical Ophthalmology. 5 ed. Madrid: Elsevier.

What is Photophobia? (June 2024).

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