What causes photophobia? 32 possible conditions

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Photophobia

Photophobia is a condition in which bright lights hurt your eyes. Another name for this condition is light sensitivity. It is a common symptom that is associated with several different conditions, ranging from minor irritations to serious medical emergencies.

Mild cases make you squint in a brightly lit room or while outside. In more severe cases, this condition causes considerable pain when your eyes are exposed to almost any type of light.

Causes of Photophobia

Migraines

Photophobia is a common symptom of migraines. These are severe headaches that can be triggered by a number of factors, including hormonal changes, foods, and environmental changes. Other symptoms include throbbing in one part of your head, nausea, and vomiting. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that more than 10 percent of people around the world have migraines. They occur three times more often in women than in men. (NINDS)

Conditions That Affect the Brain

Light sensitivity is commonly associated with a few serious conditions that affect the brain. These include:

  • encephalitis, which occurs when your brain is inflamed from a viral infection or other cause. Severe cases of it can be life-threatening.
  • meningitis, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. The bacterial form can lead to serious complications such as brain damage, hearing loss, and seizures.
  • subarachnoid hemorrhage, which occurs when you have bleeding between your brain and the surrounding layers of tissue. It can be fatal or lead to brain damage or a stroke.

Conditions That Affect the Eyes

Photophobia is also common in several conditions that affect the eyes. These include:

  • corneal abrasion, or injury to the cornea, or the outermost layer of the eye. This type of injury is common and can happen if you get a substance like sand, dirt, or metal particles in your eyes. This can lead to a serious condition called a corneal ulcer if the cornea becomes infected.
  • scleritis, which occurs when the white part of your eye becomes inflamed. It mainly affects people between 30 and 60 years old. It is usually caused by diseases that affect the immune system, such as lupus. Other symptoms include eye pain, watery eyes, and blurred vision. (NLM)
  • conjunctivitis, also known as “pink eye,” occurs when the layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eye becomes infected or inflamed. It is mostly caused by viruses. Other causes include bacteria and allergies. Other symptoms include itching, redness, and eye pain.
  • dry eye syndrome, which occurs when your tear ducts cannot make enough tears or make poor quality tears. It results in your eyes being excessively dry. It is common in women and people over the age of 65. Causes include age, environmental factors, certain medical conditions, and some medications. (AOA)

When to Seek Immediate Care

Some conditions that cause sensitivity to light are considered medical emergencies. If you have this symptom and any other symptoms associated with one of these conditions, seek immediate medical care.

Corneal Abrasion

Symptoms include:

  • blurry vision
  • pain or burning in your eye
  • redness
  • the sensation that you have something in your eye

Encephalitis

Symptoms include:

  • severe headache
  • fever
  • being difficult to arouse
  • confusion

Meningitis

Symptoms include:

  • fever and chills
  • severe headache
  • stiff neck
  • nausea and vomiting

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Symptoms include:

  • sudden and severe headache that feels worse toward the back of your head
  • irritability and confusion
  • reduced awareness
  • numbness in parts of your body

Treating Photophobia

Home Treatment

Staying out of sunlight and keeping the lights dimmed inside can help make photophobia less uncomfortable. Keeping your eyes closed or covering them with dark tinted glasses can also provide relief.

Medical Treatment

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing severe light sensitivity. Your doctor will perform a physical examination as well as an eye exam. They may also ask questions about the frequency and severity of your symptoms to determine the cause.

The type of treatment you need will depend on the underlying cause. Types of treatment include:

  • medications and rest for migraines
  • eye drops that reduce inflammation for scleritis
  • antibiotics for conjunctivitis
  • artificial tears for mild dry eye syndrome
  • antibiotic eye drops for corneal abrasions
  • anti-inflammatory medications, bed rest, and fluids for mild cases of encephalitis. Severe cases require supportive care, such as breathing assistance.
  • antibiotics for bacterial meningitis. The viral form often clears up on its own within one to two weeks.
  • surgery to remove excess blood and relieve pressure on your brain for subarachnoid hemorrhage

Preventing Photophobia

While you may not be able to prevent light sensitivity, certain behaviors can help prevent some of the conditions that can cause photophobia.

  • Try to avoid the triggers that cause you to have migraine headaches.
  • Prevent conjunctivitis by practicing good hygiene, not touching your eyes, and not sharing eye makeup.
  • Reduce your risk of getting meningitis by avoiding contact with people who are infected, washing your hands often, and getting immunized against bacterial meningitis.
  • Help prevent encephalitis by washing your hands frequently. Getting vaccinations against encephalitis and avoiding exposure to mosquitoes and ticks can also help.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Eye Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An eye emergency is when chemicals or a foreign object gets in the eye, or an injury affects the eye area. Emergencies require immediate medical attention to help prevent permanent vision damage.

Read more »

2

Corneal Abrasion

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A minor scratch to the eye's cornea is called a corneal abrasion. It can be caused by dust, contact lenses, or other foreign objects, and can sometimes develop into a serious eye condition.

Read more »

3

Uveitis

Swelling of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, is called uveitis. It is often associated with infections or autoimmune diseases, and can cause blurry vision, eye pain, and floaters.

Read more »

4

Hyphema

A hyphema is a collection of blood in the eye, between the cornea and the iris. It is painful, and requires immediate medical attention.

Read more »

5

Typhus

Typhus fevers are caused by a bacteria that is transmitted by bites from fleas, ticks, mites, and other arthropods. Rash is a common symptom of typhus.

Read more »

6

Migraine with Aura

Migraine is a disorder characterized by repeated attacks of severe headache. Symptoms include throbbing or pulsating pain, usually on only one side of the head, and can last between four hours and three days.

Read more »

7

Scleritis

Scleritis is severe inflammation of the sclera, the eye's outer protective layer. It usually causes pain, and can sometimes cause vision loss.

Read more »

8

Corneal Ulcer

A corneal ulcer is a open sore that forms on the cornea, the clear layer on front of the eye. It is usually caused by infections but can also results from small eye injuries.

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9

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," is an infection or swelling in the eye area that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, giving the eye a red or pink color.

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10

Allergic Conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is when exposure to allergens (such as mold spores or pollen) cause your eyes to become watery, red, and itchy.

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11

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a condition in which the eyes cannot produce a sufficient amount of tears. This can lead to irritation and eye redness. Causes can include medications, allergies, and hormone replacement therapy.

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12

Meningitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. It may cause headache and fever in teens and adults, irritability in babies, and trouble breathing in young children.

Read more »

13

External Eyelid Stye (Hordeolum Externum)

An external eyelid stye is an inflamed area or bump on the eyelid. The medical term for a stye is hordeolum externum . Styes are red, painful lumps (most look like pimples) near the edge of the eyelid, where th...

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14

As Rare as it Gets: Chediak Higashi Syndrome

Chediak-Higashi syndrome (CHS) is an extremely rare form of partial albinism that is accompanied by problems in the immune and nervous systems. Albinism is a lack of color in the skin, hair, and eyes. This specific typ...

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15

Chalazion

A chalazion is a small bump that appears on your eyelid because of a blocked oil gland. It usually disappears on its own within a month.

Read more »

16

Dry Eyes

When the eyes do not produce enough tears, this results in dry eyes. It can be caused by environmental factors, dry eye syndrome, medications, and other causes as well.

Read more »

17

Encephalitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Encephalitis is inflammation of the brain tissue usually caused by viral infection. Mild symptoms include fever, headache, and vomiting. Seizure, unconsciousness, and high fever are severe signs.

Read more »

18

Albinism

Albinism is a rare group of genetic disorders that cause the skin, hair, or eyes to have little or no color. Albinism is also associated with vision problems. According to the National Organization for Albinism an...

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19

Subarachnoid hemorrhage

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

This life-threatening hemorrhage involves bleeding between the brain and the tissues that cover it. If you experience an extreme headache, a popping sound in your head, seizures, and other symptoms, seek immediate help.

Read more »

20

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, or "mono," is a group of symptoms caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. One potential symptom is a pink rash that looks like the measles.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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