Why do my eyes water when I see bright lights?

Being sensitive to bright lights is a very common symptom that is often nothing to worry about. Also known as photophobia, light sensitivity can vary widely from person to person. Some sufferers will only be able to handle rooms with dim lighting and will suffer debilitating headaches, while others will merely be averse to very bright sunlight or fluorescent lighting.

The following conditions are all associated with photophobia, and may give you an idea of what could be causing your symptoms. As always, however, consult a medical eye professional to get an accurate diagnosis.


5 main causes of photophobia


1. Migraine


A migraine is a severe headache that can be accompanied by nausea and visual disturbances. Although it does not directly affect the eyes, it can cause a range of ophthalmic problems such as blurred vision, light flashes, eye pain, vision loss and, of course, photophobia.


Migraines tend to get better within 24 hours, but some sufferers may experience repeated and frequent episodes. There are plenty of medications available to those who experience chronic migraines. Speak to your doctor if you would like to explore these options.


2. Viruses


A range of viruses can cause photophobia. Like migraines, they do not directly affect the eyes, and the light sensitivity will tend to get better once the virus has disappeared from your system.


3. Eye colour


Those with lighter eye colours will often be more sensitive to those with darker eyes, as the extra pigment in darker coloured eyes protects from harsh lighting conditions.


4. Corneal abrasions


Corneal abrasions are basically small scratches on the eye that can cause pain, discomfort and photophobia. Most of the time, corneal abrasions can be easily treated with the help of eye drops.


5. Uveitis, iritis, or eye inflammation


Uveitis is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye that includes the iris, ciliary body and choroid. Iritis is the inflammation of the iris.


Any sort of eye inflammation can cause light sensitivity. Treatment depends on the cause of the inflammation, but most forms of uveitis can be treated with steroids.


Less common causes of photophobia


Although photophobia is usually nothing to worry about, it can be caused by serious conditions including a detached retina, botulism, rabies, mercury poisoning, and meningitis. If your light sensitivity is also accompanied by severe head pain, vomiting, fever, or a stiff neck, seek medical attention immediately.

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Always consult a qualified optometrist to confirm a diagnosis!

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