Photophobia: What Causes Light Sensitivity?

What Is Photophobia?

light sensitivity

Photophobia is characterized by an excessive, abnormal sensitivity to light. A patient with photophobia will often close their eyes or squint when exposed to a normal amount of light, due to a feeling of pain or discomfort in their eyes. Photophobia is not thought of as a condition on its own, but is rather the result of another underlying condition. It is a common condition, affecting over 200,000 new patients in the US every year.


  • Migraines
  • Eye infections
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Nervous system conditions
    • Meningitis
    • Encephalitis
  • Inflammatory eye conditions
    • Uveitis
    • Iritis
    • Keratitis
  • Glaucoma
  • Dry eyes
  • Neurological conditions
    • Chiari Malformation
    • Brain tumor
    • Dyslexia
  • Injury to the eye
  • Mental illnesses
    • Depression
    • Bipolar disorder
    • Anxiety
    • Agoraphobia
  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Albinism
  • Certain medications
    • Antibiotics
  • Keratosis Follicularis Spinulosa Decalvans
  • Chikungunya
  • Elevated trigeminal nerve tone


There is only one type of photophobia.



  • Looking away from bright lights
  • Impulse to close eyes when exposed to light
  • Squinting when in exposed to lights
  • Desire to stay in dark spaces or keep eyes closed
  • Getting a headache from exposure to light
  • Getting dizzy after exposure to light
  • Feeling nauseous after exposure to light


If your primary care physician suspects that you have photophobia, they will likely refer you to an ophthalmologist to perform a thorough examination of your eyes. An ophthalmologist will perform an extensive eye examination and certain diagnostic tests to determine the underlying cause of your photophobia. This can include tests for glaucoma, dry eyes, and damage to the eyes. They may also refer you to a neurologist to check for certain neurological conditions that can cause photophobia.


Treating photophobia depends on the underlying cause. If the light sensitivity is caused by damage to the eye or a condition of the eye, properly addressing these causes can resolve or reduce the light sensitivity. For some cases of photophobia caused by neurological conditions, the photophobia may be more difficult to treat and can be permanent. For photophobia that cannot be treated, changing daily habits can help alleviate the symptoms. Wearing sunglasses and avoiding exposure to bright or excessive light can help the patient to avoid the discomfort of photophobia.

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