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Niagara Falls, ON / (289) 296-6970

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Why Are My Eyes So Sensitive to Light?

Request Appointment

Is Light Sensitivity a Problem?

Light is essential for healthy vision. But light sensitivity can be uncomfortable. In some cases, sensitivity can lead you to avoid situations or experience pain from even minor light sources. Light sensitivity can be a symptom of a medical condition or eye disease. When you’re avoiding light, it’s time for an eye exam

What Is Photophobia?

Photophobia is the term for light sensitivity. The condition can range from mild to severe. With mild sensitivity, you might squint when it’s bright outside or feel minor eye discomfort. However, a severe reaction to light can cause significant symptoms even with weaker light sources.

Typical symptoms of photophobia can include:

  • Aversion to light
  •  Excessively dry eyes
  • Fatigue or nausea
  • Feeling that regular lighting is overly bright
  • Forehead pain or headache
  • Pain or discomfort
  • Seeing coloured spots (even with eyes closed)
  • Squinting (one or both eyes)
  • Tearing (during or after light exposure)

What Causes Photophobia?

Various health issues can cause light sensitivity. Albinism, migraines, tension headaches, dental problems, and even certain medications can cause photophobia. However, light sensitivity can also be temporary, like a hangover. Therefore, it’s crucial to assess your health and vision to determine if your sensitivity is temporary or chronic.

If you experience short-term light sensitivity, it’s unlikely to cause long-term harm. However, a professional diagnosis can help rule out a severe health problem. Seeing your optometrist can determine if your photophobia is caused by an eye condition, such as:

Cataracts

A cataract is a cloudy area on the eye lens. Although cataracts are more common in adults over 60, the condition can occur at any age. Cataracts are not painful, but they can interfere with vision. Common symptoms include:

  • Blurry or foggy vision
  • Decreased night vision
  • Dull or muted colour vision
  • Feeling like a film is covering the eye
  • Glare or halos around lights
  • Light sensitivity

During the early stages, an optometrist may recommend prescription lenses to improve vision. However, if prescription lenses cannot improve visual comfort, cataract surgery may be an option.

Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea, the front surface of the eye. Although the cornea typically heals quickly from minor scrapes, deeper injuries can cause scarring, impairing vision. Cornea tissue is also highly sensitive; an abrasion can cause significant discomfort. Typical symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Excessive tearing
  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness
  • Gritty or sandy sensation
  • The feeling of something in the eye
  • Light sensitivity

Seeing your optometrist for treatment can help improve healing, prevent infection, and alleviate symptoms.

Dilated Pupils

Pupil dilation is a normal eye function. Your pupil expands or shrinks in response to how much light is available in your environment. However, some conditions can interfere with pupil movement, extending pupil dilation and increasing light sensitivity.

Prolonged pupil dilation can be caused by:

If you experience sudden, prolonged eye dilation, you should be assessed by a medical professional, such as your optometrist. If pupil dilation is a known side effect of a prescribed medication, discuss your symptoms with the healthcare professional responsible for your prescription. 

A close-up of a person's eye that is suffering from dry eye

Dry Eye

When your eyes don’t produce enough tears or poor quality tears, it can cause dry eye. The condition can affect vision and eye health, as excessive dry eye can damage the eye’s surface.

Symptoms typically include:

  • Burning or stinging eyes
  • Gritty or scratchy eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Excessive tearing
  • Fluctuating vision
  • The feeling of something in the eye

Chronic dry eye can also cause photophobia. Dry eye therapy can help alleviate symptoms and protect eye health. 

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is an inflammation of the conjunctiva, a transparent tissue covering the front of the eye and eyelids. Conjunctivitis can be infectious or non-infectious. Symptoms commonly include:

Discharge (sticky, watery, or stringy)

  • Eyelid swelling
  • Excessive tearing
  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Red (or pink) eyes

There are multiple types of conjunctivitis, so diagnosing the cause is essential to providing appropriate treatment. For infectious conjunctivitis, your optometrist may prescribe an antibiotic or antiviral medication.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of progressive diseases that lead to optic nerve degeneration. It’s known as the silent thief of sight because it typically develops with few symptoms. However, it can affect eyesight as the disease progresses, causing blindness.

Some glaucoma types can cause light sensitivity:

Secondary glaucoma develops when an injury, infection, or medical condition causes increased eye pressure. The inflammation can cause multiple symptoms, including light sensitivity.

Angle-closure or narrow-angle glaucoma can also cause light sensitivity or halos around lights. Angle-closure glaucoma can develop rapidly, so booking an emergency eye care appointment is crucial if you experience symptoms. Other acute glaucoma symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Eye pain
  • Eye redness
  • Nausea

Glaucoma can be treated with prescription eye drops, laser treatment, or eye surgery.

Uveitis

Uveitis is an inflammation of the iris (coloured part of the eye) or the structure behind the iris (ciliary body). There is no known cause, but it can be associated with certain medical conditions, including Crohn’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Typical symptoms of uveitis include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Eye redness
  • Light sensitivity
  • Throbbing eye pain

Medicated eye drops are used to treat uveitis. One eye drop reduces inflammation, while the other reduces eye pain related to changing pupil size. Depending on the severity of the condition, the treatment may last for several weeks.

Treating Photophobia

Eye discomfort can interfere with vision and interrupt your daily life. Your optometrist can assess your eye health and develop a treatment plan for your unique eye care needs. When photophobia is affecting your life, contact Eye Wellness. 

We can help you manage your eye health and find solutions for your symptoms. Request an appointment today!

Written by Laurie Capogna

Dr. Laurie Capogna is a doctor of optometry and the founder of Eye Wellness. Her mission is to educate and inspire her patients, the public, and the eye care community about the power of nutrition and lifestyle in ocular health. She regularly presents educational lectures and articles on eye health and nutrition, and has co-authored two best-selling books on these subjects; Eyefoods: A Food Plan for Healthy Eyes and Eyefoods for Kids: A Tasty Guide to Nutrition and Eye Health.

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Is Light Sensitivity a Problem? Light is essential for healthy vision. But light sensitivity can be uncomfortable. In some cases, sensitivity can lead you to avoid situations or experience pain from even minor light sources. Light sensitivity can be a symptom of a medical condition or eye disease. When you’re avoiding light, it’s time for […]

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Our Location

We are located at the corner of Portage Rd. and Colborne St., in the same complex as the Shoppers Drug Mart and Stamford Centre Library.

Our Address

  • 3643 Portage Rd, Unit 9
  • Niagara Falls, ON L2J 2K8

Contact Us

  • Monday10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Tuesday10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
  • Wednesday10:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Thursday10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
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  • SaturdayClosed
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