Photosensitivity - causes, symptoms and therapy

Sensitivity to light - When light is painful to the eyes
Sensitivity to light includes various problems in the eye's ability to respond to light. Depending on the severity, it may be painful for those affected to expose their eyes to the light. It is not about intensive "looking at the sun". Nobody can endure that.

On the other hand, those who are sensitive to light cannot stand normal daylight. His eyes are red, tears and itchy. Depending on the illness, the more the light shines, the more the sight is reduced.

People who are particularly sensitive to light often draw curtains during the day or wear strong sunglasses. Depending on the illness, they either react to artificial light or the natural UV radiation from the sun - or both.

Skin changes

Increased sensitivity to light not only leads to skin complaints, but also to allergic reactions of the skin. If these reactions are triggered specifically by the UV rays, we speak of a sun allergy.

It does not have to be a natural reaction. Artificial substances such as creams, gels or sprays can also be photochemically modified to trigger an allergic reaction to UV light. This also applies to drugs such as doxycycline and St. John's wort.

The allergic reaction initially looks like sunburn: the skin turns red, swells and itches. With a so-called phototoxic reaction, these processes run faster and more intensely. A brief exposure to sunlight now causes the skin to burn.

Albinos, people who lack all dark pigments, are naturally sensitive to light. Albinos in tropical countries such as Tanzania, who genetically usually have a very dark hair color, suffer particularly severely.

Without any protection, UV-A, B and C rays can now penetrate the skin in excess. Not only does this lead to extreme sunburn, i.e. first and second degree skin burns if the person is exposed to sunlight for even a few minutes, but the risk of developing skin cancer is extremely high for these people, as is the risk to them Immune system fails and the heart functions are disturbed.

Allergies from artificial means

If certain creams, gels or medications trigger the sun allergy, the symptoms will lessen if the skin is no longer exposed to the sun. However, discoloration on the affected skin areas can remain.

Treatment is simple: patients are no longer allowed to use the active ingredient that triggers the allergy. If you do so, the reaction will repeat itself.

However, the itching in the exposed areas can become chronic if the affected people apply the funds for a long time. Then the skin structure is so damaged that it reacts extremely sensitively to sunlight, even if the patient discontinues the triggering agent.


Freshly tattooed people should not expose the tattooed skin to the sun for at least a few weeks. The reason for this is as simple as many people forget the necessary caution: a tattoo consists of hundreds of tiny skin injuries.

The human skin is not only our largest organ, but also an excellent self-protection of the body for the vital organs inside. As a buffer to the outside world, the skin wages a permanent war of defense against fungi, bacteria, viruses and all kinds of foreign bodies and chemicals - usually extremely successfully.

The skin's self-healing powers are so effective that minor injuries such as abrasions or cuts, burns and stings heal without outside help. Healing means that a new skin forms on the wound surface.

In this healing process, however, the skin is particularly sensitive - also particularly sensitive to sunlight. So you should also a scar tissue that forms after a cut or a freshly healed burn not exposed to sunlight without protection. It is the same with tattoos.

Inflammation of the cornea

People whose cornea becomes inflamed in the eye do not suffer from hypersensitive skin. The nerves in the cornea are extremely sensitive. If a foreign object penetrates, they are also sensitive.

The lids now close reflexively even when there is little light. The situation is similar with sunburn in the eye, with an inflamed iris, with conjunctivitis or meningitis.

Porphyria - the vampire disease

Prophyria describes a spectrum of metabolic disorders. Products of the metabolism are deposited in the skin and trigger "light poisoning".

The skin changes in chronic prophyria to a "monstrous" appearance of those affected. Patients show a strong sensitivity to light, so they prefer to only move outdoors in the dark. The rotten teeth fluoresce, the body hair even grows on the face. By dissolving the gums, the teeth appear larger than they actually are. The bones bend as the disease progresses. A state of delirium and outbursts of emotion also create an image that suggests the transformation of a person into "something else".

Dark skin and brown urine

Acute forms are associated with complaints of the cardiovascular system and also with abdominal pain, psychological irritation is common - this includes psychoses and depression.

Porphyria cutanea tarda is chronic and presumably has a genetic base. Blisters form on the skin areas that are exposed to light, especially on the back of the hand, neck and face. The pigments form more and more irregularly, so those affected have large areas of dark skin. The skin on the body grows strongly. The urine of those affected darkens to a pink-brown color in the light.

Porphyria acuta intermittens is even more dangerous, it is also hereditary and usually breaks open in young adults. Triggers for an outbreak can be infections, but also alcohol, stress or hunger. Colic, vomiting, high fever, heart disorders, paralysis, convulsions, dissociations and extreme fluctuations in feeling without an external cause are typical. Respiratory paralysis is common, so patients who have an outbreak have to go to the intensive care unit immediately.

Porphyria and belief in the living dead

The typical symptoms of porphyria in its various forms, combined with the fact that it was rampant as an inherited disorder in some genders of the European nobility, prompted some doctors and historians to take it as an explanation of belief in werewolves and vampires.

According to historian H. Sidky, descriptions of supposed werewolves in the early modern period partially coincided with porphyria. Novelist Nina Blazon recorded porphyria in a vampire novel in which a superstitious village population considers a fellow human being to be a vampire.

What symptoms do vampires and werewolves have in common?

Light causes great pain to the person concerned, which is why he avoids the sun. His eyes are red, his appearance grotesquely changed.

Fantastic characters from horror films and Gothic novels, werewolves and vampires, actually “resemble” people who suffer from porphyria. Often a hereditary curse triggers its transformation (genetic disposition), then they cannot stand sunlight, the werewolves also have hair on their bodies in human form, in the case of werewolves the transformation goes hand in hand with extreme outbursts of emotion that they have no control over.

Researchers who represent the connection between porphyria and werewolf / vampire also refer to the "predator-like" facial features: The skin deformed by the disease and in particular the teeth protruding from the drying gums would give the patient an "animal-like appearance".

A viable explanation?

The cramps and paralysis that occur in acute porphyria are also handed down from "werewolves", which change from their human to an animal form.

Such theories are interesting, but historically unsustainable. In fact, the metamorphosis of the werewolf is only important for the novelists of the 19th century, until it becomes the main attraction for makeup artists in horror films.

In the Middle Ages and early modern times, when people believed in werewolves as real living beings, how was not the focus of belief. Very rarely does the story of the How of Transformation appear in the stories.

In addition, it would be negligent to conclude from an extremely rare illness that omnipresent ideas in popular belief.

Is Porphyria Curable?

Porphyria has not yet been completely cured, but symptoms can be significantly relieved by avoiding the triggers. Effective sunscreen ointments are available today and chloroquine can remove the porphyrins from the tissue. Even today, those affected must avoid light as far as possible.

What to do about sensitivity to light?

If your eyes are very sensitive to light without a direct explanation such as conjunctivitis, you go to the eye doctor. Knowing the disease can fight the cause.

However, if you suffer from an overreaction to light stimuli, a cold or migraines at times, you can avoid flickering light and alleviate the symptoms by dripping eye drops into the irritated eyes.

Is it enough to avoid sunlight?

Be careful. If you are hypersensitive to sunlight, it is not enough not to go into the sun. UV-A rays also penetrate glass panes.

Avoid solariums, wear thick and long clothes, and apply a high sun protection factor and protect yourself against UV-A and UV-B radiation. Place films on the windows that do not let UV light through.

Mallorca acne

This sun eczema only entered the medical definition in 1972. This is where the hair follicles get sick, and this leads to changes in the skin that resemble acne. The term Mallorca acne stems from the fact that it is a typical "tourist disease". The main victims are holidaymakers from northern countries who plunge into the sun band with too little sun protection and too long in hot countries.

Patients not only develop normal sunburn, but small nodules on the hair follicles, which are usually slightly red. They typically spread in the cleavage and on the shoulders. In contrast to "spotty" acne, no pus forms.

Strictly speaking, it is not a disease, but a self-protection of the skin. The skin reacts to an excess of UV rays and forms new connective tissue - these are the nodules.

If those affected stay away from sunlight, the symptoms slowly subside.

The cataract

In cataracts, the lens becomes cloudy and vision deteriorates until the patient becomes completely blind. The cloudy lens also dazzles the light much more than usual, regardless of whether it is the setting sun or a living room lamp.

Those who suffer from cataracts expose themselves and their fellow men to increased danger when driving a car. Because he is permanently blinded like normal sighted people with slanting sun that penetrates through the dirt film of the windshield.

Lens opacification is also caused by too much UV light for a long time. Unlike the skin that becomes sunburned, the lens of the eye cannot regenerate, and minor damage leads to loss of vision over the years.

Cataracts cannot be treated, but only remedied by surgically replacing the lens with an artificial lens. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)


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Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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Video: Photosensitivity: Causes, Diagnosis, Symptoms, Treatment, Prognosis (January 2022).