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What Causes Light Sensitivity and How Can it be Treated?

Light sensitivity is a common complaint experienced by many people. While human eyes are made to adjust to changes in light, some people may find it difficult to adjust to changes in light and their eyes may react differently to bright lights. One may wonder as to what causes light sensitivity and how it can be treated?

What Causes Light Sensitivity?

Light sensitivity, also known as photophobia may appear different in different people. Some people may feel slight discomfort when facing bright lights, while some may be greatly annoyed and may even find it painful. The type of lights too vary and can appear in different forms thus affecting over-sensitive eyes. Light sensitivity is often a presentation of some underlying condition and is a symptom rather than being a condition itself.

What Causes Light Sensitivity?

People of different ages and both genders can get affected with light sensitivity, however, over-sensitive individuals may be affected more than others. Milder cases may cause the eyes to shy away from bright light as it is found to be irritating, while severe cases can even cause discomfort along with eye pain.

Here are a few conditions that can contribute to increased light sensitivity and some ways to treat light sensitivity.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Migraine – Migraine headaches are often associated with light sensitivity and most migraine sufferers commonly complain of being over sensitive to bright lights. Light sensitivity in persons with migraine is particularly seen during the pain episodes and in between too they are more sensitive to light than others. Migraine episodes can be sporadic or of chronic nature and episodes may last from few hours to few days. Migraine headaches, are often influenced by exposure to loud noises, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, certain types of foods, stress and exertion. These are usually more common in women and are often associated with nausea, vomiting and over sensitivity to light and sound.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Injuries – Trauma to the brain, eyes or nerves supplying the eyes can cause damage to their functions, resulting in increased light sensitivity.

Certain medications may also be related to light sensitivity and need to be evaluated by the treating physician.

Certain conditions affecting the eyes are known to cause light sensitivity.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Dry Eyes – Dry eyes are a result of inadequate production of tears or when poor quality of tears are produced. This condition is caused by environmental pollution, aging, certain medications and some underlying medical conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disorders, etc.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Inflamed Conjunctiva – Conditions affecting the conjunctiva, commonly infection or allergies causing conjunctivitis. It is commonly called as pink eye, in which the conjunctiva gets inflamed with itching, redness, increased sensitivity to light and also causes pain.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Injury to the Cornea – Cornea can get injured due to foreign particles like sand, dirt or metal particles, etc. entering the eyes and can lead to light sensitivity. In this, one may feel that there is some particle present in the eye, burning pain and redness of eyes with blurred vision. It can lead to a condition called corneal abrasion, which if not treated properly or if the cornea gets infected can lead to corneal ulcer.

Light Sensitivity Caused Due to Inflamed Sclera – Inflammation of sclera, called scleritis, commonly associated with autoimmune disorders can cause redness of eyes, with pain and increased light sensitivity.

Other conditions of the eye that can affect the vision, retina or optic nerve can sometimes cause light sensitivity.

Some serious conditions of the brain are also associated with light sensitivity, which include,

  • Meningitis An infection of the meninges (surrounding membranes of brain and spinal cord), which can cause severe complications including brain damage, light sensitivity and hearing loss.
  • A serious infection causing inflammation of the brain leading to encephalitis, which can be fatal, if left untreated.
  • Brain hemorrhage Bleeding in between the layers of the brain, which is a potentially serious condition and can affect the brain.

How Can Light Sensitivity be Treated?

Medical treatment for light sensitivity includes treating the underlying cause. Light sensitivity caused due to migraine is treated with appropriate medicines, rest and by avoiding migraine triggering factors. Eye related conditions may require artificial tear drops for dry eyes or other eye drops to reduce inflammation, pain and light sensitivity in case of infections and other conditions.

Brain related conditions and injuries causing light sensitivity may need immediate medical attention to prevent further damage.

Light sensitivity can be managed by making necessary changes at home and when outside. Relief can be obtained by covering the eyes, protecting eyes from bright lights, by wearing sunglasses, having tinted glasses, using curtains to avoid bright sunlight, etc. keeping the room dark, using dim lights and avoiding sudden changes in lighting conditions can help to protect the eyes from increased light sensitivity.

Infections of the eyes and the brain can be prevented by maintaining proper personal hygiene, hand washing and taking appropriate measures for disease prevention. Avoid sharing items of personal use, eye make-up material and touching eyes. Wash eyes with clean water, blink more often and protect eyes during sports, adventure and depending on the activities being performed.


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Photophobia (Light Sensitivity): Causes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/photophobia/basics/causes/sym-20050852
  2. National Eye Institute. (2019). Facts About Dry Eye. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye
  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. (2017). Scleritis. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/scleritis
  4. World Health Organization. (2015). Meningitis. https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/meningitis
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Encephalitis. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/encephalitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20356136

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 24, 2023

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