Photophobia is a term to describe the eye’s sensitivity to light. Light from the sun, interior lighting, street lights—all can potentially cause eye discomfort or pain.

Photophobia may occur when an eye infection or irritation is present, or can be a result of any number of conditions that affect vision: recent eye surgery, albinism, migraines, and a number of vision problems affecting the eye surface or eye’s retina. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye responsible for processing images.

Treating photophobia often involves simply treating the underlying cause. In rare instances, congenital diseases or medications can make your eyes sensitive to light, causing photophobia.

Photophobia Symptoms

When you have light sensitive eyes, the signals the retina sends to the brain are interpreted as pain or discomfort. The stronger the light source, the greater the discomfort.

Photophobia can cause mild, moderate or severe discomfort or pain when the eyes are exposed to natural or man-made light sources, outdoors or indoors. A burning or itching sensation, wincing or squinting in the presence of light, and excessive tear production are all symptoms of photophobia, and may all be symptoms of a larger problem at work within your eyes.

People with lighter-colored eyes may be more prone to photophobia in bright sunlight and sharp lighting conditions, as their natural eye color contains less pigment to diffuse harsh light.

Photophobia Diagnosis and Treatment

When you have light sensitive eyes, that’s a probable indicator that it’s time to visit your eyecare professional.

Your photophobia may be a temporary or more permanent side-effect of an underlying condition. That’s why getting to the root-cause of photophobia is the best way of treating it. A complete eyecare exam can help. Be sure to be prepared with a list of all current medications you are taking, as these may be contributing factors.