Light Sensitivity

Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity is a common condition which generally is considered to be mild, and it can cause irritation due to a variety of reasons.

Light Sensitivity, known scientifically as photophobia, is a common condition which could lead to an aversion to light, squinting, eye pain or discomfort. In the literal sense, photophobia means ‘fear of light’ but this does not accurately describe the condition. People who have photophobia are not actually scared of light, rather they are very sensitive to the light. Photophobia is connected to how the light is processed by cells in your eyes and how it’s transmitted to the brain. Light sensitivity can occur at any age and it usually is in both eyes, but there are certain conditions that can cause photophobia to only affect one eye. It’s not usually considered a serious medical issue, however it is very important to speak to your eye doctor about photophobia so that the root cause can be determined and treated.

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Causes of Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity is not considered to be a disease, rather it is a symptom of many possible conditions like infections, inflammation and dryness. It may often lead to severe irritation in the eye as well. 

Migraines are noted as the most common cause of sensitivity to light or photophobia. Over 80% of patients who experience migraines have reported light sensitivity along with the headaches. Individuals with a chronic migraine condition may be sensitive to light even when they are not experiencing headaches. When headaches are caused by stress or tension, they can also lead to discomfort caused by bright lights. 

If you have light colored eyes, you are more prone to light sensitivity compared to individuals with darker colored eyes. The dark color tends to have a higher amount of pigment in the eyes which helps protect the eyes from harsh lights and bright colors. 

Other possible causes of light sensitivity may include one or more of the following:

  • Dry eyes
  • Cataract
  • Ocular albinism - people born with low pigment levels in their eyes
  • Aniridia - people born without an iris 
  • Inflammation of various parts of the eye, such as the eyelids, cornea, iris, etc
  • Irritations caused by the contact lens
  • Refractive surgeries
  • Meningitis - a disorder related to the nervous system
  • Tumor in the pituitary gland (which is in between the eyes)
  • Sunburn
  • Some medications
  • Various mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety

Diagnosis of Light Sensitivity

Some patients complain of high pain levels or headaches when exposed to bright sunlight or high levels of light indoors. They may also need to blink repeatedly or close their eyes altogether. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of photophobia or light sensitivity, you should reach out to your eye doctor right away. Most often light sensitivity is not considered to be serious, but since it could be linked to various conditions, some more severe than others, it is important to be checked so that the root cause can be identified and treated. The doctor would typically ask about the symptoms, your medical history, prescribed medications and other information. The health of the eyes and the brain might also be checked, based on the reported symptoms. 

The most common tests that are ordered by the eye doctor to rule out anything serious would include:

  • Slit lamp eye exam using a special microscope
  • MRI
  • Tear film to check the presence of dry eyes
Diagnosis of Light Sensitivity
Treatment for Light Sensitivity

Treatment for Light Sensitivity

If you have intense sensitivity to sunlight or indoor lighting, your eye doctor will give you the right recommendations based on the cause of photophobia and your current eye health. The best way to treat light sensitivity is by finding out the cause of the problem and the trigger. As the causes are dealt with, the problem of light sensitivity may disappear immediately. 

If prescription medication is the cause of photophobia, then depending on the case, it may be possible to adjust your medication with the guidance of medical professionals. Some patients have found relief wearing tinted glasses and rose colored lenses have made a large difference to many people, but it does not work for everyone. Avoidance of bright sunlight and strong sources of lighting is another excellent way to deal with the problem. Sunglasses, wide hats and eyeglasses with photochromic lenses are some of the best solutions for people who are naturally sensitive to bright lights. Polarized sunglasses have proven to be very effective in reducing the impact of glares on the eyes. It can also help control the reflections from water, snow or other reflective surfaces. In very serious cases of photophobia, there is an option to use prosthetic contact lenses to protect the eyes. These lenses reduce the amount of light to enter the eye which reduces the possible amount of discomfort felt by the patient.

Common Questions

Light sensitivity has many connections to various conditions in the eyes, including: Dry eyes Aniridia - when a person is born without an iris Ocular albinism - when a person is born with a decrease of pigment in the eye Cataract - when the lens inside the eye is cloudy Uveitis - inflammation inside the eye which could include the inflammation of the iris If you start experiencing sensitivity to light, please book an appointment with your eye doctor. It often is not a serious condition but it’s extremely important to be checked as it can be a sign of an underlying condition which the eye doctor can diagnose and help treat. If the sensitivity to light begins suddenly or you notice it becoming worse, please book an appointment immediately as it can be a sign of a condition getting worse.
Some people benefit greatly from tinted lenses while others don’t as much. It could require trial and error and your eye doctor will guide you through the best recommendations for your experience with photophobia.
Photophobia or light sensitivity is a condition commonly affecting both eyes. Light sensitivity in one eye is not entirely uncommon. While less common, research indicates that some people will experience light sensitivity only in one eye, or that they feel it more in one eye than the other. This is referred to as unilateral photophobia. There are still a number of symptoms that can result from light sensitivity, including migraines, eye pain, nausea, dizziness, and blurry vision, regardless of whether it affects both eyes or just one.
Light Sensitivity
Dr. Zurcher cartoon


Light sensitivity can affect people of all ages for all sorts of reasons. It is most often not a serious condition, however, it’s essential to book an appointment with your eye doctor who will help diagnose the root cause and will provide proper guidance for treatment. You can schedule an eye exam with our eye doctor by calling (360) 491-2121. Patients searching for advanced treatment for light sensitivity visit our clinic from all over Washington, and we are proud to be a leading provider of medical eye care services for patients from Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma, and Lacey.


Such a nice optician. My grandson is only 4 and needs glasses. We were so sad, but he explained the issues, and we will follow up as he suggested.

Anna P.

I had such a good experience with the clinic. Very friendly staff and doctor, did not have to wait for long to be called, and was treated respectfully. Thanks, American Family.

June S.

Dr. Zurcher has gone above and beyond what any other eye doctor has ever done to figure out what is going on with my eyes. Very happy with American Family Vision.

Christine R.

Family Vision Clinic changed our lives! My daughter was frequently car sick, and she was getting headaches every day, often painful enough that they brought her to tears. We saw a string of doctors and therapists, but we made no progress. Finally, we found Dr. Levi Zurcher and his eye therapist Rain. After ten weeks of eye therapy my daughter no longer gets headaches, and she no longer gets car sick. Daily tears are a thing of the past. I really can’t say enough about this clinic. It was fascinating to watch Dr. Zurcher work. For the first time, someone who knew what they were doing was intently studying my daughter, really trying to figure out all of her eye issues, and his therapist Rain is one of the most patient and lovely people that I’ve ever had the good fortune to meet. We’re finished with eye therapy—yay!—and I have switched to American Family Vision Clinic for all of my family’s other eye health needs.

Lars Wulff

Very professional, yet kind and helpful. They do what they can to make the appointment comfortable. I was running a bit late, I made sure ti call. They were able to switch me with a patient who was already there, they treated me with respect, and helped my son have confidence by getting him the eye care he needed that day. Thank you so much! Would recommend to anyone. It's a blessing that they care enough to work with people who have all different types of insurance from work to state coverage.

Justin E.

The staff is friendly. The Doc is very knowledgeable. The office is family friendly and everyone is so patient with the little ones.

Amy Fagerness
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