What Are the Causes of Light Sensitivity?

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  • Written By: Toni Henthorn
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Photophobia, or light sensitivity, is an abnormal response to light in which the sufferer experiences an aversion to light accompanied by aching eye pain. Numerous ocular conditions can produce light sensitivity, most notably uveitis, glaucoma, and keratitis. A variety of medications may also cause patients to experience sensitivity to light. Photophobia may also happen secondary to several neurological abnormalities, including migraine and meningitis. The treatment for light sensitivity depends on the underlying cause of the condition.

Uveitis is one of the most frequent causes of light sensitivity. Resulting from inflammation in the blood vessel lining of the eye, uveitis is characterized by redness, ocular pain, headache, and pronounced light sensitivity. Uveitis can be the result of trauma, surgery, or an underlying systemic disease, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis. Physicians who see patients with anterior uveitis, also known as iritis, and posterior uveitis routinely perform blood tests, chest x-rays, and other tests to determine if a patient with uveitis has an associated disease. In addition to treating any related illnesses, physicians treat uveitis with topical, injected and oral steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and dark eyeglasses.


Keratitis is an infection of the cornea, which is the transparent window on the front of the eye. When the cornea is infected or traumatized, the patient often experiences light sensitivity. Bacteria and viruses, including herpes simplex virus, may cause ulcers on the cornea. Patients treat keratitis by using antibiotic or antiviral drops directed at the infectious agent causing the problem. Scratches or burns of the cornea and contact lens overuse may also lead to light sensitivity.

Several drugs increase the ocular response to light by dilating the pupil, which allows too much light to enter the eye. Amphetamines, methamphetamine (crystal meth), and cocaine all cause pupil expansion after use. Pharmacologic drops used in an eye doctor's office for pupil dilation include mydriacyl, cyclopentolate, atropine, and phenylephrine. Scopolamine patches, used to prevent sea sickness and motion sickness, will also produce light sensitivity through excessive pupil dilation. Chemotherapy drugs, antibiotics, birth control pills, and some acne medications may also increase the body's response to light.

Migraines are periods of abnormal brain activity due to reduced blood flow to a brain region secondary to spastic closure of the blood vessel. Migraine sufferers frequently complain of a throbbing headache that is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, hypersensitivity to sound, and light sensitivity. Many migraine patients also report visual disturbances that precede the onset of the headache. Common triggers for migraine include hormonal fluctuations, alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, monosodium glutamate, and exposure to bright lights. Treatments for migraine include avoidance of known triggers, beta-blockers, antidepressants, triptans, and botulinum injections.


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Post 3

The light sensitivity people have after eye surgery is usually caused by the lenses getting scratched. The abrasions take a week or two to heal.

Post 2

My grandmother was in her 70s when she started having trouble even going outside in the daylight. The light really hurt her eyes. She also was bothered by bright overhead lights, so she used dimmer lamps. After putting off visiting the eye doctor for a long time, she finally went for an examination.

She had cataracts. One of the reasons she had not wanted to go to the doctor was because she thought she was losing her eyesight and the doctors wouldn't be able to help her. She was afraid of the cataract surgery but she had it done anyway because everyone was telling her to have it done.

I can remember the first two weeks after the

surgery when her eyes were still light sensitive and she had to wear these dark wrap around shades. Grandma was positive that the surgery had made things worse. But after those first two weeks her vision came back and the bright light no longer bothered her.
Post 1

Continued exposure to sunlight is going to eventually harm your eyes and make them more likely to be bothered by light in general. My eyes have always been sensitive to bright light, so I usually wear a good pair of sunglasses during the summer when the sunlight is more intense.

Sensitivity to light isn't automatically a sign that you have a disease or have injured your eye. Some people are just more sensitive than others to light in the same way that some people are more sensitive to pollen or bee stings.

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