Are Blue Eyes Sensitive to Light? It’s Complicated.

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Are Blue Eyes Sensitive to Light? It’s Complicated.

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

Are blue eyes more sensitive to light? Everyone seems to have an opinion.

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.”

Whether you have blue eyes, brown eyes or another color, the back side of your iris is 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
  • Headaches

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:

  • Inflammation 
  • 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.

Are blue eyes sensitive to light? See your eye doctor if you have concerns.

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.

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10 thoughts on “Are Blue Eyes Sensitive to Light? It’s Complicated.

  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.

  2. Varg Vikernes says:

    It makes sense. Blue eyes are adapted for Europe/Northern climate. Sharks and deep dwelling marine life have blue eyes as well

  3. Gia says:

    I have greenish eyes with brown in them, or maybe they’re considered hazel, but my eyes are extremely sensitive to light and glare. My skin is also and I load up on sunscreen. On an overcast day it can feel almost worse than on a sunny day because the glare is fierce. The worst is when it’s massively hot and sunny outside and public buildings have huge windows letting all the light in – it’s like the glass magnifies the brightness and the contrast between indoor and outdoor spaces when you are inside, is terrible. What irritating most is when I’m inside and ask if I can turn the blinds or window shades and get an attitude about it. If the shades are there, then they are there for a reason. I have to constantly wear a hat indoors and often have to leave on my sunglasses too. At the library which has glaring lights all over the place, it also has windows all the way around. Fortunately, there are good shades, but they still let in some light – but every time I close some I get grief for it. It’s not like I’m blacking out an entire room – I’m just pulling a few shades part of the way down to help me be able to see my monitor and to stay comfortable. The library allows service animals, which I fully support, but I try to pull the shades and the manager gets annoyed and often passively aggressively says things like, “why don’t you sit over there so we don’t have to make the whole room dark for others.” Grrrh! Really? So don’t have shades in the windows with chains for pulling if you don’t want people using them! And I don’t make the whole room “dark”… I’m just pulling shades closest to me and nothing is dark at all about the library! It’s well lit and the shades are perforated to let light in anyway. I’ve had the same thing happen at Starbucks. I pull a few shades and a staff member has something to say about it. I’m sorry but these public spaces aren’t staff’s personal living rooms nor are they anyone else’s. What is so bad about pulling a couple of blinds to keep out glaring light for one or two people if it’s not impacting anyone else? Nothing…but someone always has to have an issue with it.

    • Lori Glover says:

      Axon Optics offers a 30 day return/purchase price refund policy so customers can test our product for a trial period. Whether you have perfect vision or need prescription lenses, we recommend first trying our non-prescription lenses in one of our frames to be sure the lens helps you before investing in a nonrefundable custom order. One week is the perfect amount of time to try out our lenses. Most customers know by then if they are effective.

      If you wear prescription glasses all of the time, I recommend the Cover Rx frame. All non-prescription Axon Optics frames have the 30 day return policy and are covered by a 1 year warranty. You can shop our glasses at http://www.axonoptics.com/product-category/migraine-glasses/

      You can find additional information, our full return policy, and our return form on our FAQ page at http://www.axonoptics.com/natural-migraine-relief-help-faq/

  4. Emily Montgomery says:

    Blue eyes aren’t always a light shade. I have blue eyes, but my eyes aren’t (unusually) sensitive to light. My eyes are actually on the dark side. If I close my eyes while talking to someone and ask what colour are my eyes, they say brown. But then there is surprise when I open my eyes they look closer. I think this is why there isn’t a strong association between “light” and “dark” eyes light sensitivity. My blue eyes are darker than my friend with light brown eyes. It’s more complicated than non-brown = light and brown = dark.

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