Light Sensitivity

Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity is a common condition which generally is considered to be mild, and it can cause irritation due to a variety of reasons.

Light Sensitivity, known scientifically as photophobia, is a common condition which could lead to an aversion to light, squinting, eye pain or discomfort. In the literal sense, photophobia means ‘fear of light’ but this does not accurately describe the condition. People who have photophobia are not actually scared of light, rather they are very sensitive to the light. Photophobia is connected to how the light is processed by cells in your eyes and how it’s transmitted to the brain. Light sensitivity can occur at any age and it usually is in both eyes, but there are certain conditions that can cause photophobia to only affect one eye. It’s not usually considered a serious medical issue, however it is very important to speak to your eye doctor about photophobia so that the root cause can be determined and treated.

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Causes of Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity is not considered to be a disease, rather it is a symptom of many possible conditions like infections, inflammation and dryness. It may often lead to severe irritation in the eye as well. 

Migraines are noted as the most common cause of sensitivity to light or photophobia. Over 80% of patients who experience migraines have reported light sensitivity along with the headaches. Individuals with a chronic migraine condition may be sensitive to light even when they are not experiencing headaches. When headaches are caused by stress or tension, they can also lead to discomfort caused by bright lights. 

If you have light colored eyes, you are more prone to light sensitivity compared to individuals with darker colored eyes. The dark color tends to have a higher amount of pigment in the eyes which helps protect the eyes from harsh lights and bright colors. 

Other possible causes of light sensitivity may include one or more of the following:

  • Dry eyes
  • Cataract
  • Ocular albinism - people born with low pigment levels in their eyes
  • Aniridia - people born without an iris 
  • Inflammation of various parts of the eye, such as the eyelids, cornea, iris, etc
  • Irritations caused by the contact lens
  • Refractive surgeries
  • Meningitis - a disorder related to the nervous system
  • Tumor in the pituitary gland (which is in between the eyes)
  • Sunburn
  • Some medications
  • Various mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety

Diagnosis of Light Sensitivity

Some patients complain of high pain levels or headaches when exposed to bright sunlight or high levels of light indoors. They may also need to blink repeatedly or close their eyes altogether. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of photophobia or light sensitivity, you should reach out to your eye doctor right away. Most often light sensitivity is not considered to be serious, but since it could be linked to various conditions, some more severe than others, it is important to be checked so that the root cause can be identified and treated. The doctor would typically ask about the symptoms, your medical history, prescribed medications and other information. The health of the eyes and the brain might also be checked, based on the reported symptoms. 

The most common tests that are ordered by the eye doctor to rule out anything serious would include:

  • Slit lamp eye exam using a special microscope
  • MRI
  • Tear film to check the presence of dry eyes
Diagnosis of Light Sensitivity
Treatment for Light Sensitivity

Treatment for Light Sensitivity

If you have intense sensitivity to sunlight or indoor lighting, your eye doctor will give you the right recommendations based on the cause of photophobia and your current eye health. The best way to treat light sensitivity is by finding out the cause of the problem and the trigger. As the causes are dealt with, the problem of light sensitivity may disappear immediately. 

If prescription medication is the cause of photophobia, then depending on the case, it may be possible to adjust your medication with the guidance of medical professionals. Some patients have found relief wearing tinted glasses and rose colored lenses have made a large difference to many people, but it does not work for everyone. Avoidance of bright sunlight and strong sources of lighting is another excellent way to deal with the problem. Sunglasses, wide hats and eyeglasses with photochromic lenses are some of the best solutions for people who are naturally sensitive to bright lights. Polarized sunglasses have proven to be very effective in reducing the impact of glares on the eyes. It can also help control the reflections from water, snow or other reflective surfaces. In very serious cases of photophobia, there is an option to use prosthetic contact lenses to protect the eyes. These lenses reduce the amount of light to enter the eye which reduces the possible amount of discomfort felt by the patient.

Common Questions

Light sensitivity has many connections to various conditions in the eyes, including: Dry eyes Aniridia - when a person is born without an iris Ocular albinism - when a person is born with a decrease of pigment in the eye Cataract - when the lens inside the eye is cloudy Uveitis - inflammation inside the eye which could include the inflammation of the iris If you start experiencing sensitivity to light, please book an appointment with your eye doctor. It often is not a serious condition but it’s extremely important to be checked as it can be a sign of an underlying condition which the eye doctor can diagnose and help treat. If the sensitivity to light begins suddenly or you notice it becoming worse, please book an appointment immediately as it can be a sign of a condition getting worse.
Some people benefit greatly from tinted lenses while others don’t as much. It could require trial and error and your eye doctor will guide you through the best recommendations for your experience with photophobia.
Photophobia or light sensitivity is a condition commonly affecting both eyes. Light sensitivity in one eye is not entirely uncommon. While less common, research indicates that some people will experience light sensitivity only in one eye, or that they feel it more in one eye than the other. This is referred to as unilateral photophobia. There are still a number of symptoms that can result from light sensitivity, including migraines, eye pain, nausea, dizziness, and blurry vision, regardless of whether it affects both eyes or just one.
Light Sensitivity
Dr. Wernick cartoon


Light sensitivity can affect people of all ages for all sorts of reasons. It is most often not a serious condition, however, it’s essential to book an appointment with your eye doctor who will help diagnose the root cause and will provide proper guidance for treatment. You can schedule an eye exam with our eye doctor by calling (212) 752-6930. Patients searching for advanced treatment for light sensitivity visit our clinic from all over New York, and we are proud to be a leading provider of medical eye care services for patients from New York, Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island.


At Amplify with Dr Wernick I was seeking help for seemingly intractable, probably age-related dryness. I've seen other doctors about it, and that has been helpful, but what he explained to me about it and the careful way he answered all my questions gave me so much more of a clear understanding of what is going on (and is not) that I am more able to implement all his and others' recommendations than I was before. And he gave me additional resources for further follow-up. I am most grateful.

Cynthia Norton

Wow! This is a great Eye Care medical facility. I was thoroughly examined by Dr. Pinkhasov for over 2 hours. She made sure to check my eyes for pretty much everything and patiently explained proper care for my eyes. They definitely know how to provide great care and treat their patients right. Now I know why they have such a great reputation and been around for so long.

Steve Fay

Dr. Kavner is a gifted diagnostician and orthoptic therapist. He treated me several decades ago for a condition similar to dyslexia. I was having migraines five times per week. I worked with him for about a year and I experienced tremendous improvement (down to 3-4 per year) that has lasted.

Mary K.

Dr. Kavner recommended two types of eye therapy for my daughter. One of them using bio-feedback. In just three sessions she is seeing considerably better. She shouted this morning: Ooh my God! I could not see these letters with my glasses on, and now I can see them without my glasses. If you are willing and able to invest in improving your vision, this is a good place to go to!

Peter G.

Dr. Kavner recommended two types of eye therapy for my daughter. One of them using bio-feedback. In just three sessions she is seeing considerably better. She shouted this morning: Ooh my God! I could not see these letters with my glasses on, and now I can see them without my glasses. If you are willing and able to invest in improving your vision, this is a good place to go to!

Kinkie F.

I have always found Dr Kavner's work, expertise and wisdom of the highest caliber. As one of the fathers of OT, occupational othomology, his depth and breadth of knowledge about the eyes' health and wellbeing of the patient is exemplary. Cannot say enough good things about him.

Allen B.
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