What is photosensitivity?
Photosensitivity, or light sensitivity, is an intolerance of light. Sources such as sunlight, fluorescent light and incandescent light all can cause discomfort, along with a need to squint or close your eyes. Headaches also may accompany light sensitivity. Light-sensitive people sometimes are bothered only by bright light. In extreme cases, however, any light can be irritating.
What causes photosensitivity?
- Photosensitivity is not an eye disease, but a symptom of many conditions such as infection or inflammation that can irritate the eyes. Light-filtering shields are helpful if you are sensitive to sunlight or even strong indoor lighting.
- Light sensitivity also can be a symptom of underlying diseases that don’t directly affect the eyes, such as virus-caused illnesses or migraine headaches.
- People with a lighter eye color also may experience more light sensitivity in environments such as bright sunlight, because darker-colored eyes contain more pigment to protect against harsh lighting.
- Other common causes of photosensitivity include corneal abrasion, uveitis and a central nervous system disorder such as meningitis.
- Light sensitivity also is associated with a detached retina, contact lens irritations, sunburn and refractive surgery.
- Photosensitivity often accompanies albinism (lack of eye pigment), total color deficiency (seeing only in shades of gray), botulism, rabies, mercury poisoning, conjunctivitis, inflammation of the cornea and iritis.
- Certain rare diseases, such as the genetic disorder keratosis follicularis spinulosa decalvans (KFSD), are reported to cause photosensitivity.
- Some medications may cause light sensitivity as a side effect, including belladonna, furosemide, quinine, tetracycline and doxycycline.
- The best treatment for light sensitivity is to address the underlying cause. Once the triggering factor is treated, photosensitivity disappears in many cases.
- If you are taking a medication that causes light sensitivity, talk to your prescribing physician about discontinuing or replacing the drug.
- If you’re naturally sensitive to light, avoid bright sunlight and other harsh lighting sources. Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection when outdoors in daylight.
- Also, consider wearing eyeglasses with photochromic lenses. These lenses darken automatically outdoors and block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays.
- For bright sunlight, consider polarized sunglasses. These sun lenses provide extra protection against glare-causing reflections of light from water, sand, snow, concrete roadways and other reflective surfaces.
- In an extreme case, you may consider wearing prosthetic contact lenses that are specially colored to look like your own eyes. Prosthetic contact lenses can reduce the amount of light that enters the eye and make your eyes more comfortable.
- Some patients request permission to have tinted car windows. After eliminating physiological causes of photosensitivity, including neurologic or medication-based causes, you can get tinted prescription lenses which can be just as effective as tinted car windows and far less expensive. In addition, there are certain lens tints that are better for photosensitivity (cause less dark adaptation) that are not available in window tinting material. State laws may differ about window tinting requiring “a genuine medical need” or “legitimate medical diagnosis”. If you end up getting tinted car windows, keep in mind that nobody else can drive your car unless they have a medical condition and permission from their eye doctor. Also keep in mind that regardless of having permission from your eye doctor, you will be pulled over by the police quite often asking to see the permission note.