It’s happened to all of us: that intense, searing light sensitivity after an eye injury. Perhaps we got debris stuck in an eye on a windy day, or maybe a stray elbow or ball connects during a lively game, leading to a detached retina. The pain can be so intense it can be difficult to even keep the eye open.

But a knock to the eyeball is just one cause of light sensitivity. Here are seven other culprits you might not have considered:

  1. Contact lenses. Specifically, certain common bad habits associated with contact lens use. Contacts take a commitment of time and care to maintain in order to avoid infections and injury that lead to sensitive eyes. The most likely culprits are:
    • Wearing them too long. Sleeping in contacts is known to bring on corneal inflammation called keratitis that can irritate eyes.
    • Not properly washing hands.
    • Using tap water to clean your eye or contacts. No matter how good your local water district is, infection-causing microbes may linger. Even distilled water can harbor them.
    • Not replacing them as recommended. A build-up of germs or small nicks and tears in the lens can scratch your eye and bring on excruciating sensitivity.
    • Not replacing contact lens solution. It’s not adequate to simply top-off; discard used solution, sanitize the container and add fresh solution.
  2. Allergies. When your body overreacts to an allergen, you sneeze, sniff and itch. When it happens in the eye, allergic conjunctivitis – irritation of the conjunctiva of the eye – you tear up, itch, burn and squint with discomfort.
  3. Eye rubbing. Never ever rub your eyes! Rubbing the delicate surface of the eye causes microscopic injuries called corneal abrasions. Just like the errant elbow in your basketball game, this injury will bring on sensitivity.
  4. Inflammatory diseases. Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis are marked by systemic inflammation that can also affect your eyes. Swelling of the uvea, called uveitis, is a spinoff of other inflammatory processes. Blurring, pain and redness can accompany light sensitivity.
  5. Family history. If keratoconus runs in the family, you could inherit those cone-shaped corneas that warp your vision and cause sensitivity.
  6. Eye color. Are you a baby about bright lights? Blame your baby blues! Light-colored eyes (think blue, green and light gray) have less sun-blocking pigmentation in the iris than their dark-eyed peers. Usually, UV-blocking sunglasses offer all the protection you’ll need.
  7. Certain medications. If you suffer occasional or chronic pain, gastric reflux, heart issues, epilepsy or are being treated for cancer or infection, check your medicine cabinet. One of the side effects of some drugs used to treat these conditions is sensitivity to light.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of light sensitivity causes. If you suffer severe light sensitivity that doesn’t seem to respond to soothing eye drops, lifestyle changes or light-blocking eyewear, see your ophthalmologist for a thorough eye exam to rule out any underlying causes.

Matossian Eye Associates performs a number of treatments for dry eye, visual disturbances and refractive errors that cause discomfort and light sensitivity. Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor at your convenience by calling us at (800) 708-8800 or through our website at