Photophobia: what it is, symptoms, causes and treatment

We left the house and the sunlight blinded us, having had to wait a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the level of light. At night, they focus on us with a flashlight or flashlight in their eyes and we close them, again annoyed and slightly irritated eyes.

These are situations that we have all experienced on certain occasions and in which the level of light has caused us some feeling of discomfort. Although this is usually normal, there are many people for whom light exposure is a common condition or who are particularly sensitive. These are the ones who suffer from photophobia.

    What is photophobia?

    Photophobia is considered in the presence of a strong sensitivity to light stimulation which generates a sensation of pain. or discomfort caused by exposure to light sources of varying intensity. Those who suffer from it are annoyed by the brightness of certain sources of stimuli. It can appear in varying degrees, ranging from superficial discomfort with very bright light sources to 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 sharp transition between environments with different luminosities.

    When exposed to intense light sources, the subject usually feels the urge to close their eyes, tears and redness of the eyes. The photophobia subject often presents with symptoms such as dizziness, headache (very common), vision problems, or gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and even vomiting.

    Symptoms and Effects

    This can lead to the presence of alterations in the daily life of the photophobia person, And can generate adaptive social and even work problems (for example with the light emitted by computers) which lead to behavioral avoidance, isolation or feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem in the face of the consequences photophobia. It can also generate situations of great danger due to the ease of being dazzled in environments where heavy machinery is being worked or where high precision and hand-eye coordination are required.

    Photophobia is a very common problem that is usually not caused by any condition and is not a major problem, but sometimes and especially when it appears suddenly or in low light can be related to the presence of another alteration in severity. variable, being then a symptom of a disorder to be treated.

    Possible causes and contexts of occurrence

    It is believed that photophobia is primarily caused by the activation of nociceptors or trigeminal nerve pain receptors in the presence of excessive light. This activation is what causes the feeling of discomfort and pain in the eye that occurs when exposed to light..

    Among the elements that can generate this activation we generally 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 resulting from prolonged exposure to the sun). Regular use of contact lenses makes their appearance easier. It also usually appears after eye surgery.

    In addition to alterations directly related to the eye, it is possible and common for photophobia to occur in the face of elements, injuries and diseases that affect the brain. An example is found in meningitis, or in meningeal or brain tumors. It is also common in people with migraines (photophobia being the reason they usually close in the dark until the headache subsides). It is common in other situations such as drug or alcohol poisoning (in a hangover, this is quite common) or substance poisoning. Other diseases such as botulism or measles can also be the cause.

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


    The treatment of photophobia is to keep in mind that the main thing in the first place is to determine the causes, because in some cases this could lead to serious health problems. In general, the type of treatment will be related to the phenomenon or the cause of its occurrence.

    If it is due to an infection, it is common to use eye drops that contain antibiotics that can stop it, as well as anti-inflammatory drugs. In the case of problems such as cataracts or glaucoma, it may be necessary to have surgery.

    In the case of eye or brain tumors, resection or removal by surgery, radiation therapy and / or chemotherapy can significantly reduce symptoms. If photophobia occurs in the face of injuries, surgical wounds or abrasions, it will be necessary to carry out the specific treatment for each type of injury. In some cases, such as a superficial wound or after surgery, the problem will eventually resolve itself over time.

    Regardless, in any case, it is advisable to avoid exposure to bright light, often prescribing the use of sunglasses both outdoors and indoors. It is also common to indicate the need to lower the light level of the usual environment if this causes problems. The eye should be clean and properly hydrated, using artificial tears if necessary. The consumption of vitamin B12 is also recommended in our regular diet. If it occurs on its own and in the absence of another medical condition that is causing it and needs to be treated, it may be helpful and advisable to apply desensitization procedures so that the patient can gradually endure greater light.

    As it is not surprising that for some of these people, photophobia and the measures taken to do so involve a level of impairment in their life, the application of psychological therapy may be necessary in the event of depressive or anxious symptoms.. Likewise, depending on the conditions under which it occurs (eg brain tumor), psychological counseling and psychoeducation of the affected person and their environment may also be helpful.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Sharma, R. and Brunette, DD (2014). Ophthalmology. In: Marx, JA, Hockberger, RS; Walls, MRI and collars. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders.
    • Kanski, JJ (2004). Clinical ophthalmology. 5th ed. Madrid: Elsevier.

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