Sudden Light Sensitivity (Causes, Treatment, Prevention)

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Sudden Light Sensitivity (Causes, Treatment, Prevention)

No matter what package it comes in, light sensitivity is no picnic. Photophobia could be a chronic medical condition, or it may be more acute due to a recent surgery, infection or other eye problem. What could make the eye pain, headaches, watery eyes, and inconvenience even worse is when it comes on unexpectedly. 

If you don’t know the cause, sudden light sensitivity could also be scary. This article will explain what might be causing your sudden light sensitivity, how it can be treated, and some effective methods for prevention. But whatever you learn here, it’s important to see your eye doctor to get to the bottom of it, as it could be a symptom of something more serious. 

What Might Cause Light Sensitivity to Occur Suddenly?

Causes for sudden light sensitivity range from simple to sudden. We’ll talk about both the obvious and less obvious potential causes to make sure your bases are covered.

Changes in Lighting Conditions

This is one of the most obvious causes of sudden light sensitivity. We’re addressing it here because you may feel a little better if you realize what you’re experiencing might be totally normal. Let’s say you remove your sunglasses to get a better look at a text message when you’re at the beach in the sunlight. This could definitely cause some sudden sensitivity to light. 

Or maybe you hit an afternoon matinee, and walk outside without your sunglasses forgetting it’s still light outside. Ouch! Fortunately, these situational types of sudden light sensitivity are temporary and nothing to worry about. If you find this problem worsening for you, however, then it might be time for an eye exam.

Impending Migraine

You knew we’d get to this one eventually, didn’t you? Sudden light sensitivity could be a tell-tale sight that a migraine attack or headache is coming. For many people with migraine disease, light sensitivity is the first sign of what’s to come. Time to put on your migraine glasses, hydrate, and take it easy.

Eye Dilation

Speaking of eye exams — if you’ve had your eyes dilated with special eye drops as part of a regular eye exam, you already know how light sensitive your eyes can be afterward. You also know about those cool shades they give you (hint: ours are even cooler). The dilation and sudden light sensitivity dilation brings with it could last up to 24 hours.

Head Trauma

If you’ve had a recent concussion or accident with a head or brain injury, sudden light sensitivity could be one of your symptoms. As you get better, you may find your light sensitivity goes away on its own. However, especially if you develop post-concussion syndrome, the sudden photophobia you’re experiencing could become a chronic condition
for you.

Eye Injury

If your eyes have been injured, sudden photophobia can arise along with other symptoms like blurred vision, pain, or burning. Anytime you suffer an eye injury, don’t wait to see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to assess the damage. Medical intervention is not only critical to healing and preventing vision loss, but could also help address the sudden light sensitivity you’re feeling now.

Rubbing Your Eyes

Have you been rubbing your eyes a lot due to allergies or irritation? Rubbing your eyes isn’t generally a good idea if you can help it, partly because we tend to go at it a little too hard sometimes. Rubbing your eyes too hard or too much can increase any irritation you feel. It can also disrupt blood vessels and cranial pressure, which could cause a sudden onset of light sensitivity. Give your eyes a break. Rather than continuing to rub, visit your eye doctor to learn what’s really going on.

An Object in the Eye

If you’ve ever had an eyelash or piece of dust in your eye, you already know it can bring on annoying watery eyes and even pain. You might have been even more annoyed by a sudden sensitivity to light. If you can’t remove the foreign body soon, it could lead to injury or infection, too.

Eye Infection

You remember this from 5th grade, don’t you? You’ve probably had conjunctivitis — the dreaded “pink eye” — more than once. Whether caused by bacteria or virus, or something like dust, the inflammation can be annoying and painful. Sudden light sensitivity could be a symptom of an eye infection.

Along the same lines is iritis, which refers to inflammation to the colored part of the eye. The iris plays a huge role in filtering light, so it’s not really a surprise that when this part of the eye is inflamed, you could experience sudden light sensitivity. Severe and sudden sensitivity to light along with pain are two of the main symptoms of iritis. If you suspect you have it, visit your eye doctor as soon as possible.

Retinal Detachment

Retinal cells and the pathway between the eye and the brain play a big role in light sensitivity. If your retina becomes detached, you may develop immediate light sensitivity, along with visual flashes, floaters, or vision loss. This is a medical emergency that should be treated right away.

Some Prescription Pharmaceuticals

If you’re experiencing a sudden sensitivity to light, you might want to check the side effects of your medications. Some of them could cause or exacerbate photophobia. If you suspect this is true in your case, talk to your doctor about what you should do before stopping any medication.

How to Handle Sudden Light Sensitivity

If you’re not sure what’s causing your sudden sensitivity to light, the most important thing for you to do is make a prompt appointment with your eye doctor. While you’re at home, however, there are some steps you can take to reduce its effects.

Reduce Harsh Light

If you have fluorescent lighting in your home or office, take some steps to limit your exposure. Barriers, dimmers, and switching to incandescent or LED bulbs can help. But don’t wear sunglasses indoors, as this can cause dark adaptation and actually make light sensitivity worse. 

Instead of harsher types of light, try letting in more natural light so you don’t need so many artificial sources.

Wear Good Quality Sunglasses

A good pair of polarized, protective sunglasses are your best defense against sudden light sensitivity outdoors. Our recent article about sunlight sensitivity discusses what to look for in sunglasses

Wearing good sunglasses can also help a lot with the glare from reflective surfaces like buildings, water, and snow; which could be more important when you’re experiencing sudden light sensitivity.

Take Frequent Breaks From Screen Time

Especially if you’ve been working and learning from home these days, all that blue light could worsen any sudden light sensitivity you’re experiencing. Try taking frequent breaks and practicing the 20-20-20 rule; this means that every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break to look 20 feet away. It also never hurts to get up and walk around your house for a few minutes, get a drink, or just sit back and close your eyes.

Moisturize Your Eyes

If you’re using a lot of artificial tears, talk to your doctor about chronic dry eye. Dry eyes could exacerbate sudden light sensitivity, so getting some moisturizing eye drops could help for any temporary, sudden light sensitivity.

Use Your Axon Optics Eyewear

Just like great sunglasses can help you avoid the pain of sudden light sensitivity outdoors, Axon Optics eyewear could help you do the same indoors. And because they only filter out the most harmful types of light, they won’t cause your sudden issue with light sensitivity to get worse over time. They’re developed by experts and have been shown effective in clinical surveys. 

Sudden light sensitivity can be a cause of anxiety regarding changes in lighting conditions, and knowing you have your light sensitivity eyewear handy may help relieve that fear. As Axon Optics customer Sarah puts it:

“While my migraines are triggered by more than just light, these glasses put my eyes at ease and remove much of my fear of sudden bright light triggers.”

Axon Optics glasses were created by neuro-ophthalmologist Dr. Bradley Katz, MD, Ph.D. Dr. Katz is also a professor at the renowned University of Utah Medical Center. Dr. Katz’s research expertise includes light sensitivity or photophobia, and neurologic conditions associated with light sensitivity, such as migraine.

The best thing about Axon Optics glasses, however, is the difference they’ve made in the lives of thousands of customers. Just one of those customers, Esteban, says:

“These frames are very stylish and far superior quality to my previous migraine glasses…Regardless of which frames you get, in my opinion Axon Optics makes the best FL-41 glasses on the market, and I am very pleased with my purchase. It’s easy to find a style that suits your face and they are far more attractive than other options out there as well. I am a happy customer.”

Thanks, Esteban! Whether you have sudden light sensitivity or chronic photophobia, it’s no joke. But if you can understand the likely causes, get the proper care, and take a few precautions, you can reduce your discomfort and get back to your life.


Source: Noseda R, Kainz V, Jakubowski M, Gooley JJ, Saper CB, Digre K, et al. A neural mechanism for exacerbation of headache by light. Nature neuroscience. 2010;13(2):239–45. 10.1038/nn.2475

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One thought on “Sudden Light Sensitivity (Causes, Treatment, Prevention)

  1. AlineMEG says:

    Didn’t know so many different factors could cause light sensitivity. Another really interesting blog post, thank you!

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