Light Sensitivity & ADHD

Light Sensitivity & ADHD

Are you or your child grappling with hypersensitivity, especially when it comes to intense lighting? If so, managing these intense sensations can feel like a full-time job. 

In this guide, we explore effective treatment options and dive into the nitty-gritty of why some people are just more sensitive to certain visual input and what can be done to handle it. Whether you're a hypersensitive person seeking solace or a parent navigating these complexities for your child, this article is your roadmap to a more balanced life.

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Alice Gendron

Founder of The Mini ADHD Coach

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The Overwhelming Experience of ADHD Light Sensitivity

Have you ever walked into a room and been attacked by an orchestra of sensory overload - blinded by intense lights and deafened by loud noises? 👂 If so, you know what a typical day can feel like for someone grappling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sensory processing disorder. 

I remember one specific day when the flickering fluorescent lights of a department store transformed a simple shopping trip into a day from hell. It wasn't just the bright lights that bothered me; the repetitive sounds of carts and chatter were just as grating. 😡

As someone who experiences sensory issues daily, I understand how important it is to find practical solutions to alleviate the distress. Given the high prevalence of ADHD diagnoses and the growing recognition of sensory issues among individuals with ADHD, delving into this added dimension of sensory processing issues is critical. 👍

In this article, we'll take an in-depth look at ADHD symptoms and their intersection with sensory sensitivities, including light sensitivity (otherwise known as photophobia) experiencing sensory overload, and the emotional responses that come with it. We'll also provide some science-backed techniques to manage hypersensitivity.  🤓

Whether you're an adult with ADHD who finds supermarkets overwhelming, a parent hesitant about taking your child with ADHD to loud events, or someone looking to better understand a loved one with ADHD, this article is for you.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and It’s Connection to Light

Sensory Processing Disorder is when the brain struggles to receive, respond to, and sort sensory information. We're talking about your five senses: sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. The core features of SPD often involve sensory sensitivities that can be either heightened or dulled, affecting a person's daily life and emotional well-being.

For many individuals, especially those with ADHD, this can show up as an extreme sensitivity to intense lighting. ⚡This isn't just about squinting in a sunlit room; we're talking fluorescent lights turning a simple day out into a maze of discomfort.

Many of us with ADHD often experience sensory overload due to bright lights. It affects their visual function, focus, mood, and even physical comfort. These lights can cause eye strain, headaches, and mood swings.😭This issue goes beyond mere annoyance; it's a sensory processing problem that significantly impacts our daily lives. 

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The ADHD Connection

The relationship between Sensory Processing Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been a subject of ongoing research. Systematic reviews have shown that symptoms often overlap with sensory sensitivities. Both research and individual accounts frequently report these atypical sensory profiles in children and adults diagnosed with ADHD.

Atypical Sensory Profiles in ADHD: What The Research Says

ADHD patients frequently experience heightened sensitivity to their environment. Every sensation, whether it's a light or a sound, is registered intensely. 

This is not just a subjective experience; research has shown that the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight or flight" response, is more easily activated in people with ADHD. 🏃This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and stressed, even when others in the same environment are not affected.

According to a systematic review, self reported photophobia was found in 69% of respondents with ADHD, compared to 28% without. In fact, they reported wearing sunglasses more often across all seasons than the general population. 

In this study, the researchers suggest that this could be related to the role of dopamine and melatonin in the eyes and brain, which are also involved in ADHD and circadian rhythm disturbances. 🧠This implies a possible connection in how dopamine and melatonin systems are regulated in individuals with ADHD.

Emotional and Behavioral Effects of Light Sensitivity

If you or someone you care about has ADHD, you're probably already aware that even simple activities can lead to intense emotional reactions and impulsive actions, especially when sensory overload comes into play.

When people with ADHD experience sensory overload, emotional reactions can be intense and difficult to manage. You might feel stressed, anxious, or exhausted, even when others in the same environment appear unaffected. This can lead to meltdowns or withdrawal from social situations. 😞

Impulsive Behavior

Impulsive behavior, one of many ADHD symptoms, often comes into play when sensory overload occurs. This can cause us to react impulsively by leaving the situation altogether or getting agitated and irritable. These emotional reactions and impulsive behaviors add a layer of complexity, as they can trigger us to snap at the people we love or lash out.

Sleep and The Circadian Rhythm

One area that is especially vulnerable to sensory overload is sleep. The connection between ADHD, sensory sensitivities, and circadian rhythms is significant. Imagine trying to sleep when every little sound seems magnified or even a sliver of light feels glaringly bright. 

These sensory processing issues can make falling asleep a nightly struggle, impacting the circadian rhythm that regulates sleep and wakefulness. 😴

Navigating Hypersensitivity: Coping Tips for Children and Adults with ADHD

Living with adult ADHD often means juggling various sensitivities, including extreme reactions to intense lighting or flickering screens. 🤯However, there are evidence-based treatments and coping strategies to help manage these hypersensitivities. ⬇️

Listen to Your Senses

If it feels off, it probably is. While you may not have the same sensory sensitivity as someone without ADHD, you have a unique understanding of your body. The sooner you sense your discomfort, the sooner you can rectify it and reduce your anxiety. 

Take a Break

Feeling swamped? Many folks with ADHD find solace in darker spaces where light sensitivities and other triggers are minimized 🕊️. This provides a unique opportunity for calm and focus, a momentary escape from managing hypersensitivity. 

So, it's more than okay to retreat for a bit - your mind will feel refreshed, and you can enjoy some much-needed peace.

Embrace Your Unique Needs

Worried about judgment? Let that go. Adapting to manage your symptoms is about improving your life, not fitting someone else's mold. Accepting your unique sensory needs isn't just okay - it's necessary.  

Additionally, simple environmental tweaks - like replacing bright or flickering lights with softer options - can substantially decrease sensory overload. 

Remember, you're doing this for yourself, not anybody else.

Be Tech-Smart

Screens are a part of modern life, but their sensory impact doesn't have to be. Being mindful of your screen time and employing tools like blue light filters or specialized glasses can make a significant difference, especially during those long hours in front of your devices. 📱

Seek Support

Don't shy away from seeking assistance when you need it. Whether it's professional treatments or a supportive community that understands your journey, reaching out can be a pivotal step in managing your symptoms and improving your life.

Get Moving

Engaging in regular exercise is not just good for the body but also beneficial in alleviating symptoms and managing sensory sensitivities. 🏋️‍♀️

Navigating adult ADHD and sensory sensitivities is tough. Still, you're not the only one who struggles with this challenge, and it doesn't mean you can't live a normal, happy life. 🥰

You can effectively manage these hurdles with the right strategies and a willingness to seek help. Above all, be patient with yourself - you have the resilience to overcome anything that comes your way. 💪


Sensory processing problems can make managing ADHD even more of a challenge than it already is. But the good news is that there is power in understanding your unique symptoms - from understanding your struggle with the glare of bright lights to making sense of color perception, managing sensory sensitivities is a game-changer for anyone navigating ADHD.

Maybe you're spotting some signs that echo autistic symptoms, or perhaps you've noticed that your ADHD seems to kick into overdrive around certain triggers. Whatever the case, it's all part of what makes you who you are and it;s worth exploring to gain more insight and understanding.

Remember, you've got resources, you've got support, and most of all - you've got this! 💪

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ADHD & Light Sensitivity FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do people with ADHD have light sensitivity issues?

While not a universal experience for everyone, some do report extreme sensitivity to bright light. It's not an official ADHD symptom, but there's enough buzz around the topic to take note.

Why is it important to address light oversensitivity?

Overlooking sensory over-responsivity, like photophobia, might seem trivial but can significantly affect daily activities. For example, harsh lighting can be so overwhelming that it influences our choices - like avoiding budget-friendly stores with intense lighting and opting for more expensive, calmer environments instead.

How can you manage light hypersensitivity?

To manage hypersensitivity to light, there's a range of strategies. Consider blue light filters, shades, or even dimming your home lights. If you're easily overwhelmed by sensory factors, consulting a professional can guide you to the right treatments tailored to your unique brain and senses.

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