photo of big blue eyes blue eyes sensitive to light

Are blue eyes sensitive to light? Or aren’t they? Doctors and researchers have been grappling with this question for years, leaving the medical community somewhat divided. On one side, there are qualified doctors who say yes, light or blue eyes are more sensitive to light. On the other side, there are equally qualified doctors who say eye color makes no difference at all when it comes to light sensitivity. 

Dr. Bradley Katz, Professor of Ophthalmology and Neurology at the University of Utah Moran Eye Center believes there are other conditions or issues that could cause a person to be sensitivity to light.

“I often have patients ask me about light sensitivity and its relationship to eye color,” he says. “Although it seems intuitive that people with lighter eye color and less melanin are more light sensitive, I’ve never been able to identify any proof that it’s actually the case; for instance, lighter colored eye people could have other, compensatory mechanisms at other points in the photophobia pathway.”

So, what is the final word on the issue? You may have to wait a little longer for that answer. In the meantime, researchers have uncovered fascinating information regarding photophobia (sensitivity to light) that people with the problem can use today.

Two Sides of the Light Sensitivity Debate

It was once thought the belief that light colored eyes experienced more light sensitivity was just an old wives’ tale. However, some researchers claim to have found that there is a direct correlation between eye color and an increased probability to sensitivity to light such as the sun, reflected light, and fluorescent indoor lighting.

Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler, also known as America’s TV Eye Doctor, explains, “People with light blue eye color tend to be significantly more light sensitive than all other eye colors (blue- grey, green-hazel, and brown). A study in 2012 made this finding and found light blue eyes didn’t block outside light as well as other colored eyes. In other words, light blue eyes “let in” more light vs. all other colored eyes which can cause more glare and light sensitivity outside such as driving or just being outdoors.”

On the other hand, doctors like Dr. Richard A. Adler, Board Certified Surgeon & Ophthalmology Specialist at Belcara Health, have a very different viewpoint.

“The correlation between eye color and light sensitivity is part fact, part fiction. Broadly speaking, one cannot decisively predict one’s light sensitivity based solely upon iris color; we can all think of blue-eyed people without light sensitivity and brown-eyed people with such sensitivity,” he says.

“Nevertheless, it is theoretically possible that blue-eyed individuals, who have thinner irides may, in fact, have increased light permeability and thus increased light sensitivity. What people often forget, however, is that the backside of everyone’s irides are brown! That back layer is usually enough to absorb light and prevent photosensitivity, whether the eyes are blue or brown.”

close up photo of light or blue eyes sensitive to light

Are your Blue Eyes Sensitive to Light?

Some people may not realize that certain symptoms they are experiencing are, in fact, caused by photophobia – regardless of eye color. Being bothered by bright lights is just one symptom, there are others. Some of the more common light sensitivity symptoms include:

  •         Difficulty focusing when outside on a clear day (the sun is shining)
  •         Trouble keeping your eyes open when in bright lights
  •         Unable to focus or difficulty focusing around bright indoor lights or flickering lights such as fluorescent lighting
  •         Pain behind or around the eyes
  •         Headaches
  •         Painful eyes
  •         Squinting when in bright light
  •         Rubbing your eyes when in bright light
  •         A need to close your eyes when around light – even if it isn’t that bright.

Basically, any discomfort that you feel around light may indicate a problem and it is worth exploring. Some people may only react to bright light while others can’t tolerate any light, inside or outside.

Causes of Light Sensitivity

There are many potential causes of photophobia that go far beyond eye color. Light sensitivity is typically a symptom of a condition such as inflammation or infection that causes irritation in the eye or certain viral illnesses. Light sensitivity is also a common symptom of meningitis, visual snow, migraines, and certain headaches. It often accompanies eye problems such as conjunctivitis, uveitis, corneal abrasions, and detached retina. Even your eyewear can cause photophobia.

Contact lens irritations are a common problem, but eyeglasses can cause problems as well.

If you find that you are suddenly sensitive to light, think about things you are doing differently. Are you taking medication like tetracycline, furosemide, doxycycline, or quinine? Could you have injured your eyes and not realized it? Do you have a sunburn or have you been sick? Do you have hay fever? If the photophobia comes on suddenly, it may warrant a trip to the doctor just to rule out anything serious.

Even if a person does suspect their eye color as the cause of their photophobia, they should still get it checked out, according to Dr. Adler. “Perhaps more importantly, there are many serious causes of light sensitivity other than eye color that require attention by one’s eye doctor,” he says. “So before wishing away your eye color to reduce light sensitivity, start with a complete eye exam.”

Are blue eyes sensitive to light? Maybe. Maybe not.

Picture of girl with sunglasses to protect her eyes from the sun

You are Photophobic; what can You Do?

If you are sensitive to light, there are things you can do. While avoiding light may work great, it isn’t practical. Dr. Brian has some suggestions for coping with photophobia:

  1. Wear tinted sunglasses outdoors
  2. Choose a “wraparound ” frame design to block light sneaking around “straight across” frames – AND wear a hat
  3. Consider home window tint if you are light sensitive in your home
  4. Ditto #3 at work if you work near a window
  5. For #3 and #4 also get tint with 100% ultraviolet blockage as UV rays increase the risk of skin cancer
  6. If you live in a state where tinted car windows are legal, then get side window tinting with 100% UV blockage (in a study we published last year, we found most car side window have poor UV blockage and there is more skin cancer on left, driver’s side) – You can get a free BWVI Card Meter to check the UV-A radiation in your car’s windows here.

Light sensitivity that is caused by an illness or injury should go away once you are healed. If it is because of medication, you should be fine once you stop taking it. Some people, though, deal with it their entire lives.

Migraine glasses, or precision tinted lenses, can provide a great deal of relief, both indoors and outdoors. You can get the precision tinting on your prescription lenses and specially tinted contacts are also available. Migraine glasses are an effective treatment for light sensitivity. Your light eyes will love them.

infographic about coping with light sensitivity

2 thoughts on “Are Blue Eyes Sensitive to Light?

  1. Elly says:

    Can one pair of glasses work for both indoor and outdoor? Can you have prescription glasses with the special indoor tint AND be transitional when outdoors? Or do you have to have 2 separate glasses: tinted for inside & actual sunglasses for outside?

    • Lara McFalls says:

      I have chronic migraines and am interested in the answer to the above questions. Hoping one pair of tinted bifocal glasses will be sufficient. Contacts seem risky.

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