Photophobia is an irrational and persistent fear of light. The word originates from Greek ‘phos’ meaning light and ‘phobos’ who is the Greek God of fear.
In this phobia, the sufferer shows an abnormal sensitivity to light. While many people suffer from headaches or experience pain or discomfort to their eyes owing to light, Photophobia is different as the sufferer cannot stand light at all. A related phobia is Photoaugiaphobia where the person severely fears bright, glaring lights. Many of these individuals cannot withstand being photographed or believe that some lights are from alien sources or evil spirits. Naturally, their phobia can greatly affect their peace of mind and day to day functioning.
Causes of Photophobia
There are many causes of fear of light phobia and they might be related to anxiety disorders or brain or eye-related issues.
- Many medical conditions, for example, are known to cause Photophobia. The eye or the nervous system may be afflicted with tumor or there may be a congenital birth defect that causes intense eye pain in the individual. As a result s/he might fear light all the time.
- In some cases, traumatic episode related to light might be trigger of Photophobia. A child (having stared at the bright sun or other bright sources of light) could have experienced migraines or eye discomfort for few days. This might cause it to fear lights each time it sees or thinks about one. This fear is actually originated in the amygdala-the part of the brain responsible for triggering fears and phobias. This is the brain’s way of protecting the individual from further trauma.
- Other eye-related disorders like albinism which causes irises to become translucent and allow passage of more light than normal can also cause Photophobia. Cataracts, traumatic brain injuries and corneal abrasions or ulcers could also trigger a permanent fear of light phobia.
- Autistic individuals or those with diseases like encephalitis, meningitis and so on can also suffer from symptoms of Photophobia.
- Photic sneeze reflex is a medical condition where the person looking at light tends to sneeze excessively. This may be a reason for his being ridiculed or teased which can lead to permanent fear of light phobia.
Symptoms of fear of light
Fear of light phobia can sometimes evoke harsh reactions from the phobic when s/he is confronted with the object one dreads, in this case light. The response may be so intense that they lead to other signs of distress and might even interfere with his everyday functioning.
An abnormal avoidance of light is a common response to this phobia. While it may be easy to avoid spiders and other specific objects of fear, avoiding light, especially daylight is nearly impossible. In such cases naturally, the person might be socially withdrawn, often depressed and might not be able to hold steady jobs or get into relationships.
Other physical and emotional symptoms of Photophobia are:
- Having constant thoughts of death or dying
- Panic attacks at the thought of being exposed to light: shaking, trembling, breathing rapidly, feeling nauseous, crying or trying to run away.
- Sitting in the dark, not participating in social activities, etc
- Averting their eyes from direct light or always wearing sunglasses.
Treating and overcoming the phobia
A combination of psychotherapy and drugs is helpful in overcoming the fear of light phobia.
A study has shown that patients taking supplements containing Lutein and Zeaxanthin can significantly reduce their light sensitivity. Naturally, it is important to first determine the root cause of one’s Photophobia before prescribing or taking medicines.
Some anti-anxiety medicines may be prescribed by doctors to help the phobic cope with panic attacks he experiences at the sight or thought of light.
Finally, gradual direct approach exposure therapy may also be used, provided the patient is able to cope with the pain of facing light directly. Computer aided simulations and other techniques like Hypnotherapy can also greatly help the Photophobe overcome his fear of light for good.