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Eye Problems and Sensitivity to Light

It is normal for the eyes to be sensitive to the sudden brightness of light, such as when you turn on a light during the night or go out into the sun after being indoors. This usually goes away within a few minutes.

Photophobia is an abnormal sensitivity to artificial or natural light. Mild sensitivity may mean that wearing sunglasses in certain lighting helps your eyes feel better. More severe sensitivity may mean that you avoid light as much as possible and keep your eyes covered in any lighted environment.

Common causes of photophobia include inflammation of the iris, the cornea, or the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis, or pinkeye).

New sensitivity to light that is painful and causes you to close your eyes or to need sunglasses even when you are indoors may be a sign of a serious condition. It may mean a problem or inflammation in the muscle that controls the movement of the pupil (iritis). This usually requires evaluation by your doctor.

Sensitivity to light with other signs of illness (fever, stiff neck, and vomiting) may indicate a more serious infection in the nervous system (meningitis).

If you have eye problems and sensitivity to light, see your doctor for an evaluation.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised November 2, 2011

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