Lighting Up the Room: Light Sensitivity Post-TBI 

Published September 15, 2020

Author: Dr. Aaron Nichols

Excel Neuro-Optometric Clinic

Are you experiencing light sensitivity since your traumatic brain injury?

Following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) there are many visual concerns that may arise, one of which is light sensitivity, or photophobia. 

Photophobia means ‘fear of light’, and can cause a person to experience extreme discomfort or even pain. Indoor and outdoor lighting are not created equally— some patients may suffer from photophobia indoors, outdoors, or both.

Choosing the type of lighting in your home can be a challenge. Additionally, while light sources have become more energy and cost efficient, these changes have not come without consequence to our health.

If you are noticing sensitivity to lights or are experiencing headaches, even while indoors, the light bulbs you choose may be the culprit. 

Two common lights used in commercial premises, such as supermarkets and department stores, include  fluorescent and light emitting diodes (LED) bulbs. These lights  both create what is called a critical flicker frequency (CFF) that causes the light to “pulsate”. Some people are sensitive to this pulsating light and may experience heachaches or light sensitivity as a result.

Following a TBI, it has been found that patients who are light sensitive or who have motion sickness, also have a lower threshold for CFF.

LED lights, referred to as “DayLight Whites”, have a tendency to function as monochromatic. This means they have a narrow spectrum of light waves and usually fall closer to one wavelength. Therefore, the light they emit appears brighter, and the wavelength falls towards the blue end of the spectrum.

According to research, light rays that have a shorter wavelength, such as blue light, have been shown to cause photophobia. 

The blue light triggers one of the cranial nerves (trigeminal) that contains pain receptors, causing discomfort or photophobia.

An optometrist with post graduate training and experience in helping patients with TBIs to manage their photophobia symptoms, may recommend specific tints, filters, and light sources.

If you are suffering from light sensitivity, find computer or phone use difficult, or are unable to enter stores due to the lighting, consult with a developmental or neuro-optometric optometrist.  

These therapeutic options may help you feel more comfortable, leading to an improved quality of life.