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Why Are My Eyes So Sensitive to Light?

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A woman blocks the bright sunlight with her hand.

Maybe you always need to wear sunglasses, even on overcast days. Maybe you constantly squint when stepping into a brightly lit room. These could all be signs that you are one of the many people who suffer from sensitivity to light, also known as photophobia.

Vision conditions such as cataracts, dry eyes, glaucoma, corneal abrasions, or uveitis can cause your eyes to be sensitive to light. It could also be due to a non-visual issue affecting the brain, such as migraines. While short-term photophobia is unlikely to cause lasting damage, it can be a symptom of more severe eye conditions. If you experience this condition persistently, you should visit your optometrist for an eye exam.

What Is Photophobia?

Photophobia is a condition in which the eyes are overly sensitive to light, leading to a range of signs and symptoms, such as:

  • Avoiding light
  • Experiencing vivid colour spots, even in darkness or with closed eyes
  • Trouble focusing on text or images
  • Discomfort or pain while exposed to light
  • Involuntarily squinting or closing your eyes
  • Forehead pain
  • Watery eyes
  • A feeling of dryness
  • The feeling that regular lighting appears overly bright

People with photophobia could experience discomfort even in normal lighting conditions. Still, their symptoms may worsen in bright environments, sunlight, or artificial light, such as fluorescent bulbs or computer screens.

Many people experience short bouts of photophobia without it being a problem. But, In some cases, lingering or repeated photophobia can be a sign of an underlying medical condition and should be checked promptly.

What Causes Photophobia?

Photophobia can have many causes. Some are temporary or treatable, while others require ongoing management. Some common causes of photophobia include:

  • Migraines: Migraines are a type of headache characterized by intense pain, sensitivity to light, and other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Photophobia is a common symptom of migraines and may be triggered by changes in lighting or visual stimuli.
  • Eye conditions: Certain eye conditions, such as dry eye syndrome, cataracts, corneal abrasions, or uveitis, can cause photophobia as a symptom. These conditions may lead to inflammation or damage to the eye tissues and affect how the eye reacts to light.
  • Trauma or injury: Injuries to the head, eyes, or neck can cause photophobia as a symptom. Concussions, whiplash, or eye surgeries can also affect how the brain processes light and cause sensitivity.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as antibiotics, antihistamines, or antidepressants, can cause photophobia as a side effect. Talk to your doctor if you experience new symptoms after starting a new medication.
  • Neurological conditions: Photophobia can be a symptom of certain neurological disorders, such as meningitis, encephalitis, or epilepsy. These conditions affect the brain’s function and can cause abnormal responses to light.

Eye Conditions Related to Photophobia


Cataracts are a common eye condition, especially among older adults. They cause the eye’s lens to become cloudy, reducing the amount of light entering it while also scattering the light that does. This scattering can cause photophobia, and people with cataracts may avoid bright lights or intense sunlight.

While they can be frustrating, cataracts can be treated with surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eyes happen when your eyes don’t produce enough tears, or your tears evaporate too quickly. Dry eyes can cause discomfort, redness, and, of course, sensitivity to light. Treatment for dry eyes may include using artificial tears and in-office treatments, avoiding windy or dry environments, and taking regular breaks from staring at screens.


Glaucoma is a collection of diseases that damage the optic nerve and can lead to vision loss if left untreated. Glaucoma is often caused by high pressure inside the eye, and it can leave you sensitive to light. Treatment may involve using eye drops to lower pressure or, in some cases, surgery.

Corneal Abrasions

Sometimes, dry eyes or foreign objects can leave scratches on the cornea, the clear layer that covers the front of the eye. Corneal abrasions can make the eyes more sensitive to light, and people with this condition may experience pain or discomfort. Treatment may involve antibiotic eye drops, pain relief medications, or an eye patch to protect the eye while it heals.


Uveitis is an inflammation of the uvea, the eye’s middle layer. This condition can cause photophobia, eye pain, blurred vision, and floaters. It can be caused by infections, autoimmune disorders, or exposure to toxins. Treatment may involve prescription medications, such as corticosteroids or immunosuppressants, or the underlying cause of the inflammation may need to be addressed.

A woman uses her hand to block bright sunlight from her vision.

How to Manage Photophobia

Treating photophobia is typically based on addressing the underlying cause. If you suspect that you have photophobia, it’s important to consult your eye doctor to determine the cause and your treatment options.

In the meantime, there are some simple changes to your environments or habits you can make to reduce the effects of photophobia, including the following:

  • Wear sunglasses or a hat to shield your eyes from sunlight and glares
  • Use tinted lenses or filters on your computer screen or phone
  • Avoid bright or flickering lights, such as flashing bulbs or neon signs
  • Take breaks and rest your eyes if you work in front of a screen for long hours
  • Manage dry eye symptoms with artificial tears

A Path to Healthy Vision

If you experience sensitivity to light, there could be many reasons why. While some causes may be minor and require minimal treatment, others may indicate a more serious underlying condition.

At Henderson Vision Centre, we can examine your symptoms, determine what’s causing your photophobia, and help you see sunny days clearly again. Don’t let the light leave you in the dark, book an eye exam today!

Written by Dr. Melina Chow

Dr. Chow received her Doctor of Optometry from the University of Waterloo in 2005. She has been an integral part of the Henderson Vision team for over 15 years, moving back to her hometown immediately upon graduating from university. When she isn’t at the clinic, Dr. Chow runs circles trying to keep up with her two energetic boys. Once she’s had enough cardio, she enjoys baking and planning her next vacation.
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