Myth or Fact: Blue Eyes Are More Sensitive to Light

Updated July 07, 2021

If you have blue, green, or gray eyes, you may have noticed yourself squinting into the sunlight more than your brown-eyed counterparts or needing a respite from the fluorescent lights at work. You may wonder if it’s all in your head -- or is there truth to the rumor that people with light eyes are more sensitive to sunlight.

According to Duke ophthalmologist Anupama Horne, MD, the answer is yes -- your baby blues are indeed likely contributing to your squinting and discomfort under bright lights.

Truth About Light Eyes and Light Sensitivity

Dr. Horne explains that photophobia -- the term used to describe light sensitivity -- typically affects people with light eyes because they have less pigmentation in multiple layers of the eye than those with darker eyes. Because of this, they are unable to block out the effects of harsh lights like sunlight and fluorescent lights. 

Dr. Horne is careful to note that photophobia refers to light sensitivity, but does not mean actual permanent loss of vision. She also says that photophobia can affect some people with brown eyes.

Photophobia may cause a person to have difficulty seeing or focusing in bright lights, or even cause pain around the eyes. So, squinting or rubbing your eyes often when you are in harsh light may be a clear sign that you have some level of photophobia.

Stay Out of the Sun

The good news is that there are measure you can take to reduce the effects of photophobia resulting from light eye color.

Simply avoiding prolonged time spent in harsh lighting or bright lights or wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats when outside should minimize symptoms associated with light sensitivity. Anti-glare coatings on glasses can also help.

When to See a Doctor

If you’ve taken the necessary steps to diminish light sensitivity but still find it hard to see or experience pain, it’s time to visit an eye care specialist.

Eye care specialists are trained to diagnose and treat common causes causes of light sensitivity including dry eyes, cataracts, and more complex conditions of the cornea, iris, and retina.

Learn More About
Eye Care at Duke