What is Photophobia?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Photophobia is a condition of the eye characterized by an unusually high sensitivity to all forms of light, ranging from sunlight to fluorescents. Although “photophobia” literally means “fear of light,” suggesting that this is a psychological condition, it could be more accurately termed “aversion to light” in this case. A variety of things can cause photophobia, and a number of treatments are available, depending on the underlying cause.

Some people have photophobia because of congenital conditions which cause sensitivity to light. Others develop photophobia along with an eye disease or another medical condition. People with cataracts, for example, often experience photophobia. This condition is also associated with the use of some medications, such as some heart medications. Inflammations of the eye may also lead to photophobia. Since photophobia can be a symptom of an underlying problem, it is a good idea to see a doctor if one suddenly experiences increased sensitivity to light.

This condition usually occurs because too much light is entering the eye. The excess of light overstimulates the extremely sensitive receptors in the eye, causing pain. Photophobia can also in turn create its own medical problems, like headaches and disorientation. People who experience photophobia may be reluctant to go outdoors in full sun, and they typically avoid brightly lit rooms and other bright spaces.


When photophobia is diagnosed, many doctors recommend the use of sunglasses or glare reducing sunglasses to address the immediate problem. However, these measures are only designed to increase comfort for the patient while the doctor explores the cause of the condition and develops a course of treatment. If, for example, photophobia is caused by an inflammation of the eye, the doctor will treat the underlying inflammation, which will resolve the photophobia. In the instance of photophobia caused by medication, the patient may simply have to ride out the course of the medication, unless an alternate medication will be effective.

Sometimes, the underlying cause of photophobia cannot be cured. In these cases, people may n eed to make lifestyle adjustments to keep comfortable, such as using dim lights in their homes and avoiding situations with strobe lights and flashes, which can cause searing pain. Tinted or lightly polarized glasses may be worn indoors to protect the eyes from bright light without attracting attention, and photophobics may avoid driving at night, when oncoming headlights could be temporarily blinding, and therefore potentially extremely dangerous.


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