Vision - light sensitive

Alternative names
Photophobia; Light sensitivity; Light hurts the eyes; Sensitivity to sunlight

Photophobia is eye discomfort in bright light.

Photophobia is a fairly common symptom. For many people, photophobia is not due to any underlying disease.

Common Causes

  • Excessive wearing of contact lenses, or badly fitting contact lenses  
  • Eye disease, injury, or infection (such as chalazion, episcleritis, glaucoma)  
  • Burns to the eye(s)  
  • Common migraine headache  
  • Meningitis  
  • Acuteiritis  
  • Corneal abrasion  
  • Corneal ulcer  
  • Uveitis  
  • Drugs such as amphetamines, atropine, cocaine, cyclopentolate, idoxuridine, phenylephrine, scopolamine, trifluridine, tropicamide, and vidarabine  
  • Eye testing in which the eyes have been dilated

Home Care
The discomfort of light sensitivity can be reduced by avoiding sunlight, closing the eyes, wearing dark glasses, or darkening the room. However, the cause for the light sensitivity should be determined since proper treatment may cure the problem.

Call your health care provider if

  • Light sensitivity is severe - i.e., if you need to wear sunglasses indoors.  
  • Accompanied by headaches, red eye(s) or blurred vision.  
  • Sensitivity to light that does not go away in a day or two.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting the sensitivity to light in detail may include:

  • Time pattern       o When did this begin?       o Is the sensitivity to light constant or occasional?  
  • Quality       o How severe is the sensitivity?       o Are dark glasses needed?       o Are darkened rooms needed?  
  • Aggravating factors       o Have the pupils recently been dilated with medications?       o Do you use contact lenses?       o Do you have headaches?       o Do you use soaps, lotions, or cosmetics around your eyes?       o Have you had an exposure to dust, wind, sun, pollens, or chemicals?  
  • Relieving factors       o Is it better after you rest?       o Is it better when you wear dark glasses?       o Is it better when you are in darkened rooms?       o Do any medications make it better?  
  • Other       o What other symptoms are also present?           + Pain in the eye           + Headache           + Nausea           + Neck stiffness           + Blurred vision           + Sore or wound in eye           + Redness           + Itching           + Swelling           + Dizziness           + Numbness or tingling elsewhere in the body           + Changes in hearing  
  • Additional important information       o What medications are being taken?       o Have you had any injuries?       o Do you have a history of migraine headaches?       o Do you use “street drugs”?

The physical examination may include a neurological examination performed with special attention to the eyes.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

  • Corneal scraping  
  • Slit-lamp examination  
  • Lumbar puncture

Again, in most cases, the cause is relatively minor and can easily be treated. However, you should be evaluated by an eye doctor or your primary doctor if the symptoms are severe or persistent.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 4, 2012
by Janet G. Derge, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.