Light Sensitivity: Causes and Conditions Associated With Brain and Eyes

Light sensitivity is a common symptom of several conditions related to the brain and eyes, and they’re mostly associated with migraines. This guide can help you recognize when it’s time to see a doctor. Read this to learn more about light sensitivity.

10 minute read

Last Updated July 15, 2020

Light Sensitivity: Causes and Conditions Associated With Brain and Eyes

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is a condition in which bright lights hurt your eyes. This condition can range from mild to severe. 

Bright lights might only make you squint, or they can cause considerable pain. Severe cases cause pain when eyes are exposed to any type of light. Light sensitivity is a common symptom of several conditions that can range from mild irritations to medical emergencies. 

Symptoms of Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity causes a need to squint or close your eyes in the presence of bright or outdoor lights. The condition is worse in brighter lighting. 

In addition to squinting, you may also experience:

♦ Headaches
♦ Nausea
♦ Blurred vision
♦ Dizziness
♦ Pain in or around the eye

Causes of Light Sensitivity

There are several conditions that can cause or worsen light sensitivity. Most are mild and can be successfully treated. Others are more serious health conditions that require immediate medical attention. 

People with a lighter eye color are also known to be more sensitive to light. Darker pigments protect against harsh lighting. Conditions like albinism are commonly linked to light sensitivity. 

Migraine is the most common cause of light sensitivity. A migraine is an intense headache that can also cause nausea and light sensitivity. They can be triggered by foods, stress, or hormone changes. Pain medications can relieve symptoms of migraine, and once it passes, light sensitivity diminishes too. 

Migraines can also be triggered by bright lighting, further demonstrating the strong link between the two conditions. 

Conditions That Affect the Eyes

Light sensitivity is a common symptom of several eye conditions. 

♦ Cataracts: Cataracts cause the lens of your eye to become cloudy, affecting vision. Light sensitivity is a common symptom of cataracts, and harsh lights can be extremely painful. This is especially true with posterior subcapsular cataracts that start at the back of the lens, blocking light and affecting reading.  

Conjunctivitis: Also known as pink eye, its condition is caused by infection. A virus, bacteria, or allergies causes the thin layer of tissue covering the eye to become inflamed. Eyes become itchy, red, and leaky as well as sensitive to light. 

Scleritis: Scleritis is a disease that causes the whites of the eyes to become inflamed. Most cases are caused by immune system disorders such as lupus. The eyes become very sensitive to light, and vision can become blurred. 

Dry eye: When our tear glands are unable to produce enough tears or produce poor-quality tears, you have a condition known as dry eyes. Age, medications, and environmental factors can contribute to the development of dr eyes. Dry eyes cause the eyes to be easily irritated and inflamed, which can be aggravated by harsh lighting

Corneal abrasion: Your cornea is the outermost layer of the eye. It can become scratched by particles getting into the eye. This causes pain and sensitivity to light, and it will feel like you constantly have something in your eye. Your eye naturally releases tears to cry, to flush any irritants out, and to soothe the eye. If left untreated and the cornea becomes infected, a corneal tumor can develop, which is a more serious threat to vision. 

Inflammatory conditions: There are several conditions of the eye caused by inflammation. They are classified according to the part of the eye that is affected. Uveitis (inflammation inside the eye), iritis (inflammation of the color ring), and keratitis (inflammation of the cornea) are all associated with light sensitivity. 

Conditions that Affect the Brain 

There are a few conditions that affect the brain that can also impact vision. Light sensitivity is commonly associated with these brain-related conditions.

Encephalitis: Viral infections and autoimmune diseases can cause brain tissue to become inflamed. When this happens, the brain swells, and pressure increases within the head. Headaches, neck stiffness, and light sensitivity are common symptoms. Severe cases can cause seizures and can be life-threatening. 

Meningitis: Meningitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. The infection causes the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord to become inflamed. Viral meningitis is more common and clears up on its own. Bacterial meningitis is more dangerous and can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics. Light sensitivity, fever, chills, and a stiff neck are the first symptoms. 

Subarachnoid hemorrhage: This occurs when you have bleeding between your brain and the surrounding tissue. It can be caused by an aneurysm or head injury and can be fatal. Sensitivity to light and double vision are early symptoms to watch for. You may also experience nausea, headaches, reduced awareness, confusion, and numbness in parts of your body.

Mental illness: Some mental health diseases can also cause light sensitivity. Anxiety disorders are most commonly associated with vision issues. Elevated stress levels change hormones, which can impair vision. Stress causes you to blink faster, which can dry eyes, both of which result in light sensitivity. 

Light Sensitivity Treatment

For mild cases of light sensitivity, you can reduce discomfort by staying out of sunlight or wearing protective (polarized) eyewear. You can also keep inside lights dimmed as necessary. 

Severe or uncontrollable light sensitivity needs to be treated by your doctor. They will perform an eye exam as well as a physical exam to identify the cause. The treatment will depend on the underlying cause, and can include:

♦ Medicated eye drops for inflammatory-related causes
♦ Medications for migraines
♦ Antibiotics for infections
♦ Eye drops for corneal abrasions
♦ Artificial tears for dry eyes
♦ Surgery for brain hemorrhage to remove excess blood and pressure

Natural Treatment for Light Sensitivity

In addition to the above treatment options, you can boost eye health naturally. There are several important nutrients that protect the eyes and reduce the risk of diseases. In doing so, you can prevent light sensitivity. 

Some eye conditions cannot be cured, but these natural options can protect your eyes from further damage. They can reduce symptoms like light sensitivity and pain. 

To reduce inflammation that causes dry eyes, pain, and light sensitivity, consider the following natural treatments.

Lyc-O-Mato®: This has been proven to reduce blood pressure and inflammation in the eye. This reduces swelling and pain, which can trigger light sensitivity. The antioxidant protection of this ingredient also reduces the risk of macular degeneration or can slow its progression. 

Mixed carotenes: The combined antioxidant protection of carotenes gives your eyes full coverage. Each has its own benefits, and together, this mixture can reduce the severity of symptoms associated with cataracts and glaucoma. 

Cataracts are the most common eye condition in the United States. To reduce the severity of symptoms like light sensitivity, include these compounds as part of a regular eye health routine.

Tocopherols are an optimized form of vitamin E. It’s easily absorbed and used directly in the eye, which helps to stimulate the production of natural eye enzymes. As a result, the eye is protected from oxidative stress that can cause light sensitivity. 

Lutein is one of the most important eye nutrients. It protects against cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. 

Zeaxanthin works together with lutein. Both are found naturally in the retina of the eye. The protect this area from oxidative stress. As a result, the risk of eye disease is reduced, and light sensitivity can be treated.

How to Prevent Light Sensitivity

Light sensitivity may be caused by a condition out of your control, but there are certain behaviors you can do to reduce the severity. You can also prevent some of the conditions that cause light sensitivity, including:

♦ Avoid triggers that cause migraines
♦ Prevent infections like conjunctivitis by practicing good hygiene
♦ Get immunized against meningitis
♦ Prevent encephalitis by washing hands regularly

When to See Your Doctor

Light sensitivity can be resolved, but the underlying cause needs to be discovered first. Successful treatment depends on diagnosing the cause. 

A number of conditions can cause light sensitivity, ranging from mild to severe. Contact your doctor right away if you notice light sensitivity. While most cases are mild and easily resolved, you need to rule out more serious conditions. You might need to get them treated before permanent damage is caused.

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