Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night, stumbled to the bathroom, hit the switch and … yikes!? Your initial response to that burst of light was probably to squeeze your lids shut or squint until your eyes adjusted to your surroundings.
All of us have experienced light sensitivity at some time or other, but some people are extremely intolerant of light. It’s known as photophobia, “when normal light causes discomfort or pain in people, to the point where they want to avoid it,” says Kathleen Digre, M.D., a professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the John A. Moran Eye Center, University of Utah, in Salt Lake City.
The source of discomfort might be a sunny day, a lighted computer screen, bright fluorescent lighting in a store, or oncoming headlights at night.
Some people may even become disabled, says Stephen Silberstein, a Philadelphia-based neurologist affiliated with Jefferson Health-Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals. “I have seen patients who literally cannot leave their house without dark sunglasses because of an increased sensitivity to light."
Possible causes and triggers of light sensitivity
Actually, photophobia isn't a condition but a symptom of other conditions. Though the list of culprits is a long one, it's most often related to neurological or vision problems.
Migraine is one the most common triggers. In fact, about 80 percent of people who have head bangers experience heightened sensitivity to light. “Two-thirds of patients say photophobia is their most bothersome symptom during an attack,” Silberstein says. “But there are many who also have an increased sensitivity to light between attacks."