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There are 25 possible causes of photophobia

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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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Possible Causes - Listed in order from the most common to the least.

1

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 »

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

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 »

4

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 »

5

Meningitis

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

Meningitis is an inflammation of the meninges, which is the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis may occur when fluid surrounding the meninges becomes infected. The most common causes of meningiti...

Read more »

6

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 »

7

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.

Read more »

8

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.

Read more »

9

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 »

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

Infectious Mononucleosis

Infectious mononucleosis, often called "mono," is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). It typically occurs in teenagers, but you can get it at any age. The virus is spread through saliva, which is why some peopl...

Read more »

12

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...

Read more »

13

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman's emotions, physical health, and behavior during certain days of the month generally just before her menstrual period. PMS symptoms start five to 11 day...

Read more »

14

Corneal Ulcer

At the front of the eye is a clear layer of tissue called the cornea. The cornea is the window of your eye and permits light to enter the eye. Tears constitute the natural defense against bacteria, viruses, or fungi fo...

Read more »

15

Hyphema

A hyphema is a pooling or collection of blood inside the anterior chamber of the eye (the space between the cornea and the iris). The blood may cover most or all of the iris and the pupil, blocking vision partially o...

Read more »

16

Porphyrias

Porphyrias are a group of rare inherited blood disorders. People with these disorders do not make heme, a component of hemoglobin (protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen) properly. Heme is made of porphyrin (...

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17

Chalazion

A chalazion is a small bump that appears on your eyelid because of a blocked oil gland. It can develop on the lower or upper eyelid, and it often disappears without treatment in about one month. However, you should se...

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18

Sarcoidosis

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease where granulomas (clumps of immune cells, usually macrophages) form in various organs. This causes organ inflammation. Doctors believe that sarcoidosis may be caused by an abnorma...

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19

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a common form of chronic arthritis in children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints. Most cases of JRA are mild, but sever...

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20

Valley Fever (Coccidioidomycosis)

Coccidioidomycosis-also called valley fever-is a fungal infection that starts in the lungs, and in rare cases spreads to the rest of the body. According to the California Department of Health, approximately 150,00...

Read more »

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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