What is photophobia?

  • While there is no scientific consensus on the definition of photophobia or the "fear of light," clinically speaking, we use the term photophobia in relation to any who patient has an exacerbation of pain or discomfort in the eye or head when exposed to a light source that should not be discomforting under ordinary circumstances.

  • Light sensitivity can significantly impact quality of life and lead people to avoidant behavior that may prohibit them from things they enjoy like using the computer, going outside, or working in fluorescent environments.

  • It is very common (~90%) for patients with migraine or headaches to experience light sensitivity during their headaches, but many post-concussion and migraine patients also suffer from light sensitivity in general - even without a headache.

What causes photophobia?

  • Photophobia can have multiple causes including migraine, brain injury, dry eye, inflammation in the eye, oculomotor dysfunction, and medication use (just to name a few)

How do you treat photophobia?

  • Treatment depends upon what is actually causing the light sensitivity.

  • In some cases avoidance of light or use of tinted lenses/sunglasses is necessary, but in other cases avoidance of light and use of tinted lenses/sunglasses can actually aggravate or worsen the photophobia.

  • Some tints are specifically created and scientifically shown to improve specific types photophobia

  • The key to treatment is understanding the underlying etiology and treating that appropriately. Since many patients can have multiple causes to their light sensitivity, it is important that they see an experienced eye care provider like a neuro-optometrist to appropriately diagnose and manage their light sensitivity.

References

  • Katz BJ, Digre KB. Diagnosis, pathophysiology, and treatment of photophobia. Surv Ophth. 2016;61:466-477

  • Wu Y, Hallett M. Photophobia in neurologic disorders. Translational Neurodegeneration. 2017;6:26

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