Senior woman wearing sunglasses blocks the light coming in from a window

The Struggle With Lights and Macular Degeneration

Last updated: November 2022

I have a love-hate relationship with light. I hate it, but I need it. It doesn’t matter if I’m inside or outside, it’s a daily battle.

Looking at bright lights is uncomfortable and it worries me because it probably isn’t good for my eyes. Too much bright light can have consequences for anyone’s eyes, but especially those of us with macular degeneration (AMD). On the other hand, with AMD, I need enough light to see properly.

Managing my light sensitivity

I’m not sure if I have photophobia, but I certainly have trouble looking at bright lights. I actually think I’ve had this problem for much of my life.

Taking photos

In photos where a flash has been used, I’m always the one with my eyes closed, spoiling the whole photo. In outdoor shots, as a kid and a teenager, I’m usually the one squinting. Now I always wear sunglasses, even in photos. No one can tell what’s happening with my eyes!

Adjusting lighting at home

Some light I can avoid. I close the curtains if I’m watching television during the day because the glare hurts my eyes. I also close the curtains if I want to read, but then I need to organize a bright light to point at the book, and not my face. Neighbors must wonder what’s going on behind closed curtains in the middle of the day!

Confronting excessive light out in the world

Out of my own environment, I need to advocate for myself. Bright lights are everywhere – at the dentist, the skin specialist, the eye specialist (can’t do much about that one!).

Dentist

At my last visit to the dentist, I had to ask for goggles as she pulled her bright light down over me. Then I had to ask for extra goggles. This isn’t easy to do with a mouth full of instruments. I think I put the dentist’s schedule off because her assistant took so long to find extra goggles.

Dermatologist

Very few lights are stronger than a dentist’s, except for a dermatologist's! Recently, I had Intense Pulsated Light (IPL) treatment for a pre-cancerous spot on the edge of my lip. When I realized that the name of this treatment involved the words “intense” and “light”, I knew I was in for trouble. I sprung into action.

They agreed to my request for goggles. When I asked for more protection than goggles, they looked as if no-one had ever said this before. They went scurrying around to find something else. The technician came back with a folded hand towel to put over the goggles.

I could still see that “intense” red light through my closed eyes, goggles and towel. At least the 7 minutes of treatment seemed to go faster, because I spent the whole time worrying about my eyes!

Struggling on a night out

On the other hand, last week, I went into the city to see some live theatre for the first time since COVID-19. I was a bit concerned about being amongst so many people, but I had another worry. I knew I couldn’t navigate that theatre in the dark if I had to leave my seat during the performance.

With AMD, I have great difficulty seeing anything in dim lighting. It was a matinee performance and my strategy involved only one coffee for breakfast, and no morning tea.

I enjoyed the first half of the show in a mild state of dehydration but didn’t have to leave my seat until interval – when the lights were on! This is not a procedure I recommend. I was very thirsty by the end of the play.

Plan ahead!

The daily struggles with light continue – there is either not enough or too much! Somehow I get through it with a bit of assertiveness and a lot of forward planning.

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