Tips for coping with light sensitivity

Light sensitivity or “photophobia” is common in people diagnosed with eye conditions or sight loss.

Light sensitivity is where the light level in the environment is too bright and causes discomfort. For some people, this discomfort can be extreme and can further reduce their usable vision. 

This page contains a summary of our information on light sensitivity. Our downloadable factsheet has our full information on light sensitivity caused by eye conditions, but the ideas may also help people without any eye conditions:

Download our light sensitivity factsheet in Word

What is glare?

Glare is where bright or reflected light can affect our ability to see or is uncomfortable to look at. Many people with low vision need more light than usual to read. However, too much or the wrong sort of light can cause problems with glare.

There are two types of glare; discomfort glare and disability glare.

What is discomfort glare?

Discomfort glare occurs when a light source is just too strong for our eyes. It may cause us to “screw up” or shade our eyes; it can even cause us to close our eyes. It makes us want to look away from the light source, because it is uncomfortable to look at, but it doesn’t cause a reduction in vision.

What is disability glare?

Disability glare reduces how well we can see. Disability glare can be caused by eye conditions and can occur with ordinary light sources and levels of light.

Disability glare doesn’t necessarily cause discomfort but can reduce how much detail we can see. This type of glare generally reduces contrast, making it difficult to distinguish objects.

What eye conditions can cause light sensitivity and glare?

Many eye conditions can cause light sensitivity and glare, some examples include:

  • Ocular albinism – this is when some people are born with a lack of pigment in the eye.
  • Aniridia – a condition where the iris is missing from birth.
  • Cataracts – clouding of the lens inside the eye.
  • Macular degeneration – a condition affecting the macula, the area in the eye responsible for our central, detailed vision.
  • Uveitis – inflammation inside the eye, such as iritis.
  • Inherited retinal dystrophies such as retinitis pigmentosa.
  • Conditions which affect the front surface of the eye such as conjunctivitis, dry eye or corneal problems.

If you start to experience light sensitivity, it’s important to see an optometrist (also known as an optician) to have your eyes checked. An optometrist will be able to examine the health of your eyes to check for any underlying eye condition which could be causing your light sensitivity.

If you suddenly become sensitive to light or your light sensitive worsens, this should be checked as soon as possible, as it can indicate the worsening or development of a new condition. Much less commonly, sudden severe light sensitivity can be the first sign of a more serious condition such as meningitis, which can cause light to become painful very quickly. If you are in any doubt it is always best to have any new symptoms checked by a doctor or optometrist.

Can light sensitivity or glare be treated?

If the light sensitivity is a symptom of an underlying eye condition such as cataract, then treatment for your cataract can help to solve the glare problem. Treating eye conditions like uveitis often means that your eye becomes less light sensitive.

Unfortunately, not all eye conditions can be treated. If your eye condition cannot be treated medically then there are still things that can help you cope with light sensitivity and glare.