It may be your eyes:
Why Are My Eyes So Sensitive to Light?

Why Are My Eyes So Sensitive to Light?

Light sensitivity is a serious issue that troubles millions of Americans every day. While the severity can vary, it can be debilitating for many. Even what would be considered normal levels of lighting can cause excruciating pain and limit usable vision for those affected, making it difficult to work or perform everyday tasks. Individuals with light sensitivity may notice the issue in different situations. Your own symptoms may be at their worst when you step outside during bright sunlight, while someone else may experience their worst symptoms while watching television at night or when under fluorescent lights. No matter when you notice your symptoms, light sensitivity is a problem that has many potential causes. Fortunately, there are also several solutions.  

What Is Light Sensitivity?

Also known as photophobia, extreme sensitivity to light occurs when you perceive the levels of light in an indoor or outdoor environment to be too bright, even if most others consider the lighting comfortable or even dim. It can cause discomfort or eye pain, forcing you to squint or shield your eyes to see comfortably.  Light sensitivity itself isn’t a condition. Instead, it’s a symptom of another medical condition that can range from mild annoyance to severe pain. Getting to the bottom of your light sensitivity can help you take action to reduce and manage your symptoms. 

Symptoms of Light Sensitivity

There are many symptoms of light sensitivity, including:
  • Squinting when exposed to light 
  • Rapid, uncontrollable blinking
  • Pain in and around your eyes 
  • Headaches
  • Neck stiffness
  • Dizziness/nausea
  • An inability to use screens
  • Blurry vision
  • Issues with depth perception

Possible Causes of Light Sensitivity

The list of light sensitivity causes is long and varied; in some cases, more than one cause may apply. For example, causes can range from an eye infection to irritation of the trigeminal nerve. An eye exam may not catch the true health condition or eye disease causing your light sensitivity. Do you ever wonder why your eyes are so sensitive to light? Here are some of the most common causes and what you can do to alleviate your symptoms:

Eye Color

People with lighter eye colors, such as blue or gray, tend to be more sensitive to light. That’s due to the amount of melanin present in their eyes. Melanin is the pigment responsible for your eye color, as well as the color of your skin and hair. It also protects against ultraviolet (UV) rays. The darker your eyes, the more melanin they have. That allows them to block out harsh light more effectively. On the other hand, the lighter your eyes, the less melanin you have. As a result, your eyes have less protection against bright lights, especially the sun. You may perceive the light level in certain environments, outdoors or inside, as too harsh. You can’t change the amount of melanin in your eyes. If you have light-colored eyes and experience sensitivity to light, the best solution is to wear shaded or transition lenses to protect against light harshness and reduce your symptoms.


Some medications contain ingredients that cause your skin to react abnormally to UV rays. In other words, you become more sensitive to sunlight. You may develop a sunburn, rash, or blisters when exposed to light that typically wouldn’t cause such reactions.  Medications that can increase your sensitivity to light include:
  • Antibiotics 
  • Antihistamines
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Acne medications
  • Certain medications for diabetes
  • Some heart medications
The changes caused by these medications don’t only affect your skin; they can also make your eyes more sensitive to light, even if you don’t typically experience sensitivity. Let your healthcare provider know if you start noticing symptoms with a new prescription. They may be able to recommend an alternative that doesn’t have light sensitivity as a potential side effect. 

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses themselves typically don’t cause light sensitivity. However, if they aren’t the correct fit for your eyes or you wear them too long, you may start to experience issues. That’s because these situations can cause eye abrasions or ulcers. Improper use of your contacts, such as not replacing them as recommended, wearing damaged lenses, or failing to clean your lenses, can also lead to these complications.  Let your eye doctor know if you experience light sensitivity symptoms while wearing contacts. They can make sure your lenses fit your eyes correctly. Avoid wearing your lenses for prolonged periods, and give your eyes a break every so often by wearing your glasses instead. Along with alleviating light sensitivity, these steps will also help protect the health of your eyes.  A doctor may also recommend using artificial tears or antibiotic eye drops to treat issues related to persistent contact use. 


A migraine is a common and complex neurological condition that causes moderate to severe headaches and sometimes debilitating head pain. Light sensitivity is one of the most well-known symptoms of migraines. It’s one of the criteria for diagnosing the condition.  Approximately 80% of people who suffer migraine headaches also experience sensitivity to light during an attack. Along with being painful, light exposure can worsen a headache. For more than half of migraine sufferers, light can also be a trigger.   If you suffer from migraines, your light sensitivity may be an unfortunate side effect. Migraine treatment options, such as over-the-counter and prescription medications, may help reduce your headache frequency and severity. You may also want to speak with your doctor about options to manage light sensitivity during and after a migraine attack. 

Binocular Vision Dysfunction and Light Sensitivity

If the solutions to the above situations aren’t working, or none of these situations apply to you, your light sensitivity may have a more serious root cause: binocular vision dysfunction (BVD).  BVD is a condition in which your eyes are misaligned, making it difficult to see clearly. Light sensitivity is a common symptom. It occurs because you may be experiencing shadowed or double vision, which your brain interprets as extra light or glare. Other symptoms of BVD include:
  • Double vision. You see two images, which typically overlap each other instead of one.
  • Shadowed or blurred vision. A slight misalignment causes your brain to see images with shadowed or blurry edges.
  • Trouble adjusting to new glasses. You continue to experience vision issues even after getting a new prescription.
You may also experience a variety of other symptoms, including: Treatment for BVD typically involves micro-prism lenses, which alter the way light enters your eyes. Along with improving your vision, these lenses can alleviate your other symptoms, including light sensitivity.

Get to the Bottom of Your Light Sensitivity

If you suffer from light sensitivity, and the treatments you’ve tried so far haven’t provided any relief, the underlying culprit could be binocular vision dysfunction. For more information about BVD and to find out if it may be the cause of your vision issues, visit Vision Specialists online today!

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It may be your eyes

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  • American Academy Optometry
  • American Optometric Association
  • Michigan Optometric Association
  • VEDA
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