How to Help Patients With Photophobia: A Light Sensitivity Guide

Light Sensitivity

As you likely know, photophobia doesn’t really mean fear of light – it’s how we describe the feeling of pain caused by light exposure or, more generally, intolerance to light. And you probably have more patients with photophobia than you realize. The good news is, as an eye care provider, you can help them.

Why Bright Light Hurts

First off, it’s important to understand how light and pain are linked. Research conducted over the past decade has shed new light on this.

In particular, researchers found the specific cells that play a role in causing pain to those experiencing light sensitivity – they are called intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (ipRGCs), and namely melanopsin secreting cells at the retina. Scientists also discovered that these photoreceptors are most affected by certain specific wavelengths of light in the visible light spectrum.

In other words, specific colors of light trigger larger, more irritable electrical signals in the brain. Melanopsin was found to be peak activated in5:

  • The upper blue light range, from 450nm to 500nm
  • The amber light range from 550nm to 600nm

A corroborating Harvard study found that painful light, shown to increase migraine related headache pain, exists in the following ranges6:

  • Blue
  • Amber
  • Red

Green light was shown to incite less activity in the thalamus, the pain center of the brain, and could even potentially reduce pain in some people.

These findings have led the way to new developments for those who are most sensitive to reduce the impact of light on their lives – including the innovative and clinically proven Avulux Migraine & Light Sensitivity lens.

Ways To Help Your Patients Cope With Photophobia

There are simple ways that patients can try to address photophobia, such as using black-out curtains to cut down on the light coming into their home, installing dimmable light bulbs or those with less flicker, and simply avoiding bright sunlight. But, much like retreating to a dark room, these options don’t always allow people to enjoy the daily activities they normally love.

You can help by prescribing Avulux Migraine & Light Sensitivity lenses. Some patients have described these lenses as their own portable dark room. They filter the most harmful blue, red and amber light while allowing in soothing green light. And that means patients can manage the impact of light on their lives.

Add a Migraine and Light Sensitivity Sub-Specialty to Your Practice

Avulux Migraine & Light Sensitivity lenses offer an evidence-based tool that you can add to your practice to support the one in five patients who experience migraine.


0.1 Wu Y, Hallett M. Photophobia in neurologic disorders. Transl Neurodegener. 2017 Sep 20;6:26. doi: 10.1186/s40035-017-0095-3. PMID: 28932391; PMCID: PMC5606068.

1 Lipton, R.B., Munjal, S., Alam, A., Buse, D.C., Fanning, K.M., Reed, M.L., Schwedt, T.J. and Dodick, D.W. (2018), Migraine in America Symptoms and Treatment (MAST) Study: Baseline Study Methods, Treatment Patterns, and Gender Differences. Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, 58: 1408-1426.

2 Pflugfelder, Stephen C. “Tear dysfunction and the cornea: LXVIII Edward Jackson Memorial Lecture.” American journal of ophthalmology vol. 152,6 (2011): 900-909.e1. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2011.08.023

3 Digre, Kathleen B, and K C Brennan. “Shedding light on photophobia.” Journal of neuro-ophthalmology: the official journal of the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society vol. 32,1 (2012): 68-81. doi:10.1097/WNO.0b013e3182474548 

4 Bohnen, N., Twijnstra, A., Wijnen, G., & Jolles, J. (1991). Tolerance for light and sound of patients with persistent post-concussional symptoms 6 months after mild head injuryJournal of neurology238(8), 443–446.

5 Noseda R, Kainz V, Jakubowski M, et al. A neural mechanism for exacerbation of headache by light. Nat Neurosci. 2010;13(2):239–245. doi:10.1038/nn.2475

6 Rodrigo Noseda, Carolyn A. Bernstein, Rony-Reuven Nir, Alice J. Lee, Anne B. Fulton, Suzanne M. Bertisch, Alexandra Hovaguimian, Dean M. Cestari, Rodrigo Saavedra-Walker, David Borsook, Bruce L. Doran, Catherine Buettner, Rami Burstein, Migraine photophobia originating in cone-driven retinal pathways, Brain, Volume 139, Issue 7, July 2016, Pages 1971–1986

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