Photophobia is not similar to other phobias in which a person has a fear of certain things or situations. Photophobia or light sensitivity is a relatively common condition, defined as eye pain or discomfort in bright light exposure.
Photophobia is not a disease but is a common symptom of various diseases and conditions. The eye discomfort varies from mild irritation to grievous emergency. In mild cases, the bright light may cause squinting or some discomfort in the eyes, while in severe conditions, even low light causes pain and discomfort in the eyes.
Causes of photophobia
Photophobia occurs due to a defect in the eye’s light-sensing cells and the nerve that connects the eyes to the brain. It is a symptom of various medical conditions, such as:
- Migraine: Photophobia is the most common visible symptom of migraine headache. Other headaches (cluster and tension headaches) can also cause photophobia.
- Inflammation inside the eyes: A person suffering from acute iritis or uveitis may develop light sensitivity.
- Corneal abrasion: Injury to the cornea (the outermost layer of the eyes) occurs if you get metal particles, sand, dirt, or other materials in your eyes, which can cause photophobia.
- Scleritis: Inflammation of the white part of our eyes or sclera can lead to light sensitivity, watery eyes, blurred vision, and pain in the eyes.
- Conditions affecting the brain: Photophobia occurs along with various brain conditions, including subarachnoid hemorrhage, brain injury, supranuclear palsy, pituitary gland tumor, or meningitis.
- After recovery from the eye surgery or eye tests
- Some conditions of the eyes such as cataracts, damage to the retina, dry eye, and blepharospasm.
- Eye burns also lead to photophobia.
- Excessive or poorly fitting contact lens
- Drug overuse in the eyes or as a side-effect of some drugs (quinine, doxycycline, tetracycline, or Lasix).
- Sometimes, photophobia appears in a person who has mental health conditions, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, or agoraphobia (fear of being in public places)
Symptoms of photophobia
Photophobia can affect any age group of people. It can affect both eyes simultaneously or can affect one eye. Symptoms of the photophobia are:
- Hypersensitivity to bright light
- Repulsion towards a light source
- Even in the dark or with your eyes closed, you may see various bright-colored spots.
- Normal appearing light feels excessively bright
- Pain or discomfort while seeing the light
- Squinting of one or both eyes
- Difficulty in reading
- Pain in forehead
- Dry eyes
- Watery eyes
- Continuous urge to shut your eyes
Diagnosis of photophobia
If you are feeling sensitivity towards light, visit your ophthalmologist. For a definitive diagnosis of photophobia, an opthalmologist asks about your complaints and any present medical conditions. They can perform various tests to confirm it, including:
- Clinical history: It includes a series of various questionnaires, such as when it started, how bad is the pain, recent medications, timings of appearance, use of contact lenses, accidental chemicals exposure, injury, or anything which makes symptoms better or worsen.
- Physical examination: The doctor performs various physical tests, including neurological evaluation, vision, and eye movement check-ups.
- Slit-lamp exam: A microscope with a light examines your eye.
- Ocular tonometry: It measures the fluid pressure within your eyes.
- Fluorescein angiography: The opthalmologist suggests angiography to detect any leakage or other problems related to the eye’s blood vessels.
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT): This painless, non-invasive test generates a retinal image to detect conditions.
- Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI imaging can detect any diseases or conditions affecting the brain.
- Blood test: It can detect any inflammation or infection in the nervous system and eyes.
Treatment of photophobia
The doctors practice two approaches for the treatment of the photophobia:
- The first approach involves the treatment of the underlying condition. A thorough analysis and treatment of the causative disease improve photophobia subsequently.
- The second approach involves a symptomatic relief approach. Treatment of the underlying causative disease may take a few days to better the photophobia. Following are the self-care things you can do to comfort these symptoms:
- Wear eye-protective and dark-tinted sunglasses
- Eye drops for comfort
- Avoid light and sun exposure
- Wear eye mask
- Try to avoid migraine-triggering factors
- Timely take over-the-counter prescribed pain relievers, antibiotic eye drops, or antibacterial medicines.
- Maintaining a good eye and hand hygiene and avoiding touching your eyes
- Getting vaccination against encephalitis
Photophobia or light-sensitivities are a curable condition. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing any of the upper described symptoms and actively participate in the treatment approach for betterment.