Relationships are complicated. Molecular biology is complicated. And now, we have the nerve to tell you blue eye light sensitivity is complicated? Well, doctors and researchers have been grappling with the same question for years. In fact, the medical community is somewhat divided on the issue.
So yeah, you could say it’s complicated. But that doesn’t mean there are no answers.
Two Sides to the “Are Blue Eyes More Sensitive to Light” Debate
On one side, there are qualified doctors who say yes, blue eyes or lighter colored 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.
Good thing one of our founders — Dr. Bradley Katz, Professor of Ophthalmology and Neurology at the University of Utah Moran Eye Center — is an incredibly qualified doctor himself.
What does he have to say?
“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, people with lighter colored eyes could have other, compensatory mechanisms at other points in the photophobia pathway.”
So, while it’s true that your blue eyes could be more sensitive to light, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of your eye color. There are likely other contributing factors.
Other Opinions About Light Sensitivity and Blue Eyes
Some researchers claim to have found a direct correlation between light eyes sensitivity to light such as sunlight, 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 [i.e. blue-grey, green-hazel, and brown eyes]. 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 when 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 [irises] 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.”
For Eyes of Any Color, Photophobia Could Be the Culprit
Some people might not realize that some of what they’re experiencing is caused by the medical condition photophobia — regardless of eye color.
Basically, any discomfort you feel around light may indicate a problem. The severity of photophobia varies widely from person to person, with some only reacting to bright light and others unable to tolerate any at all. Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?
- Difficulty focusing under bright indoor or outdoor light
- Trouble keeping your eyes open when in bright lights
- Inability to focus around flickering or fluorescent lighting
- Pain behind or around the eyes
- Squinting or rubbing your eyes when in bright light
Causes of Photophobia
There are many potential causes of photophobia that have nothing to do with having lighter-colored eyes. If your eyes are light sensitive, it could be due to:
- Irritation from contact lenses
- Injuries like corneal abrasions
- Detached retina
- Infection such as uveitis or pink eye
- Macular degeneration
- Eye strain
- Eye surgery
- Medical conditions like meningitis or migraine
- Visual snow
- Certain medications
So before you blame your light sensitivity on the reduced pigment of your lighter eyes, consider whether any of the other potential causes apply to you. Then, go see your eye doctor to rule out anything serious. You wouldn’t want to assume an innocent cause for your photophobia at the risk of ignoring a real problem.
So, You’re Photophobic. What Can You Do?
No matter the cause, photophobia stinks. Fortunately, there are ways to combat it. While avoiding light altogether might make you feel better, it isn’t practical and could actually make your photophobia worse. So without resorting to perpetual hibernation, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.
- Wear specialized light-sensitivity lenses like those made by Axon Optics to filter out the wavelengths of light most likely to cause you pain — no matter your eye color
- Wear sunglasses outside
- Wear a hat or cap to shade your eyes
- Avoid using fluorescent lighting at home. Instead, try incandescent bulbs or warm white LEDs
- Bring in as much natural light as you can to reduce your reliance on artificial light
- Install dimmers to control indoor lighting
- Adjust the settings on your TV, computer, phone and other devices to warmer hues and reduced brightness
Using light-filtering lenses provides a hassle-free way to control your exposure. Plus, you can avoid making uncomfortable requests at work, or having to stay out of places you like because of the lighting they use. For many users, the lenses provide very significant relief.
If you have light eyes, it’s plausible that this plays a role in your light sensitivity. But be sure to check with your doctor about your sensitivity to light, because there are likely to be other factors that may need treatment.