ADHD & Light Sensitivity

Addressing Light Sensitivity in Adults with ADHD

Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is a common but often overlooked issue in adults with ADHD. This sensitivity can lead to discomfort, headaches, and increased distractibility, affecting daily functioning. It's crucial to recognize and address this sensitivity to create more comfortable environments. Strategies include using softer, dimmer lighting, wearing sunglasses or tinted glasses, and minimizing exposure to fluorescent or harsh lighting. Adjusting screen brightness and using blue light filters can also alleviate discomfort from digital devices. Understanding and accommodating light sensitivity can significantly improve comfort and focus for those with ADHD.

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Oh! I'm Blinded by the Lights

Sensory sensitivity is one of the struggles I often experience. When I become overly stimulated by external stimuli, I'll feel off and might even get nauseous or irritated 😠. My sensory processing problems can affect my system. I often get easily distracted by repetitive sounds like someone scratching their nails on a chalkboard or the heavy equipment pounding on the construction site.

The thing is, it’s not only loud noises piss that me off. When someone is walking in front of me, and they are smoking 🚬, or their perfume scent is a bit strong, I can easily smell them even if they are a few steps ahead. I'll either stop walking or have to move away because the smell can overwhelm me and make me feel sick 🤢. Aside from the olfactory system, my oversensitive sense of touch can also be distracting. I do not like itchy fabrics and get annoyed with clothing tags. If I have to wear them, I'll ensure they don't come in contact with my skin.

People with ADHD often have sensory sensitivities

My sensory processing issues can affect how my day goes. With sensory overload, emotional reactions may happen, such as feeling frustrated, angry, or depressed. I may also space out and become disoriented 😵‍💫. It takes a lot of effort and focus to return to the present moment. However, if the environment is too overwhelming, I'll have to leave and go somewhere that's more calming for me.

Light Sensitivity and ADHD

At this point, you’re most likely getting the trend. Sensory overload occurs when something overwhelms or overstimulates one or more of the senses. I have lightly touched on my sensitivities to sound, smell, and texture. Now, let me focus on light sensitivity 💡. 

Light Sensitivity is one of the samples of sensory sensitivity

According to reports, everyone experiences sensory overload at some point in their lives. That means even our neurotypical counterparts can experience them. However, experts say that extreme sensitivity to external stimuli is highly associated with autistic symptoms or PTSD. Likewise, sensory overload can also be experienced by people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD 👌.

Some people with ADHD may find it hard to manage hypersensitivity brought on by lights. Our sensory over-responsivity from being exposed to bright lights ☀️might cause our visual function to falter and make it hard to focus and pay attention. For example, the glare of oncoming headlights can be distracting and cause us to veer off the road when driving.

While the general population may be able to adjust their vision and acclimate to different lighting conditions relatively quickly, some people with ADHD may find that their eyes take longer to adjust to change 🕶️. As a result, we may be more susceptible to developing migraines or headaches from being under bright lights for too long. In addition, some individuals with ADHD are more likely to experience self-reported photophobia and extreme sensitivity to light that can cause pain and discomfort 🤕.

One Day at the Grocery Store

One thing I enjoy the most is indulging my impulsive behavior and going to grocery shops 😅. Even though I need only a few things, I still want to go to the shops and wander around the aisles. In my mind, my daily dose of dopamine can be easily achieved through this simple activity. However, some things stop me from going there: my limited budget 💰, too much sound 🎵, and fluorescent lights 💡.

Light Sensitivity can be experienced in Grocery Shops

I know the last two factors are usually added dimensions to encourage customers to stay in the stores and excite their buying spree. However, for some people with ADHD like me, it can be a bit too much. After a while, the glaring lights and repetitive sound from the store's announcements can become overwhelming and make it hard for us to focus on anything else. As a result, we may end up leaving the store without buying anything, or we might impulsively buy anything we see 🛒and then rush to fall in line to avoid the difficulties.

Bright lights from artificial sources, like those found in grocery stores, can cause us to become agitated and uneasy. One day when I was on an unplanned trip to restock my provisions, I went to a grocery store, and after a few minutes, I felt dizzy and uncomfortable, so I decided to cut my trip short and leave immediately. I opted to buy in a higher-priced store where the environment was more comfortable.

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Doing Things Other May See as Unnecessary

Sometimes, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder may not present as something that can be recognized physically. Not everyone has a hyperactive presentation; some people may struggle with many different things in their daily life that others cannot notice quickly. That's why it is important not to judge a person based on how they look or act, as we don't know what is going on in their lives ❤️.

Wearing Sunglasses even if it's not necessary

As sensory overload, like light oversensitivity, cannot be understood well by some neurotypical people, they may think that individuals with ADHD do things that don't make sense. For instance, they might not understand why we opted to shop in a high-priced store instead of the regular grocery store, if we’re short on budget. Another example is I might always wear sunglasses outside because the light hurts my eyes 👓, and I know that if I don't, I'll be in pain later on.

Even though other adults may not be sensitive to their remarks, it doesn't mean we must conform to their standards. After all, we are the ones who are having problems with these triggers, not them. So, it's up to us to find what helps us cope with our light sensitivity and make the necessary changes. The bottom line is we need to receive the right treatments to address our hypersensitive reactions to light so we can go about our daily lives more efficiently 🏥. 

The Love for Dark Spaces

I am a night person, undoubtedly. Not only because I function well at night but also to avoid the sensory overload, what with too much light and noise during the day. When it's nighttime, I can finally relax and be at ease in my space without putting up a facade. At night, there's little to no instance where experiencing sensory overload caused by light is an issue 🌃.

Loving Dark Environment when stressed or tired

I can do anything that interests me during nighttime. I can readily illustrate and create doodles without worrying about color perception because bright lights don't hinder my vision ☀️. I don't experience difficulty thinking and processing information as I do not get distracted by flickering lights. There's also a decrease in stress-related hormones, like cortisol, which can help me feel more relaxed when it's dark. Our circadian rhythms and sleep patterns can also be regulated better when we are exposed to darkness more often.

Many people with ADHD find comfort in the darkness because it provides a state of calmness and peace 🕊️. It's a time when we can finally be alone with our thoughts and not have to worry about anything else. We don't need to worry about managing hypersensitivity to light or other triggers that may cause discomfort. We can focus on what we want to do and enjoy the moment.

Disregarding ADHD Symptoms on Light Sensitivity

What happens when we disregard our light sensitivity? Usually, those with heightened and sensitive reactions to light sources would experience more problems. There are chances of distorted color vision when continuously exposed to bright or blinding lights, painful sensations can be felt around our eyes or parts of our head because of migraines, and in some cases, it might even develop into permanent vision damage. These can be the extreme outcome of disregarding our need to care for our eyes in general 👀.

Sensory Overload can lead to stress, exhaustion or irritability

However, for those with ADHD symptoms, problems can be a few notches up due to light sensitivities. If we experience prolonged exposure to brightness, there are moments when our emotions can be affected, behaviors may be more impulsive, and we can't focus on anything else 😵‍. Continuous blue light exposure, primarily from devices and gadgets, can alter the brain and may cause sleep problems. Depending on the intensity, we may feel exhausted, stressed, and irritated most of the time.

Comorbid conditions, such as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), can also develop. When we experience hypersensitivity to light, our nervous system is in a constant state of high alert. This can progress to an SPD diagnosis as our sensory processing becomes impaired, and we have trouble filtering out stimuli that can overwhelm us.

The Mini ADHD Coach's Tips in Dealing with Light Sensitivities

There are moments when these triggers and symptoms affect me extensively. The moment I start to hyperfocus on doing my tasks at night and use the gadgets I work with, it's like a domino effect. I'll begin to experience more symptoms, and it'll be hard to focus on anything else 😭.

Some tips in overcoming sensory sensitivity

I know that other ADHD people are hypersensitive to their senses, so here is some of my advice on how to manage adult ADHD symptoms related to light sensitivity:

  • Listen to your senses - if you think something is not right, there probably is something wrong. Our senses may not be as keen as others, but we know our bodies better than anyone.
  • Take a Break - when you feel overwhelmed with lots of sensitivities, it's best to take a break and relax. Close your eyes, or go to a dark room if you can 💤.
  • Accept your needs - you don't need to worry about what other people will say or how they'll judge you based on how you adapt to your struggles. Remember that you are doing this for yourself, and it's okay to be different. You are not alone in this struggle. 
  • Use gadgets wisely - we can't avoid using devices, but we can be more mindful of the time we spend in front of screens. Try to use blue light filter apps or wear blue light glasses when you need to work on your computers or devices for long hours 📱.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for help -  whether you are seeking professional help or want to talk to someone who will understand you, don't be afraid to reach out. There are a lot of people who are willing to help and support you in your journey. 

Light sensitivities can be frustrating and challenging but know that you are not alone. These struggles can be addressed and managed as long as you are willing to seek help and accept your needs. Be patient with yourself, and always remember that you can overcome anything that comes your way ❣️.

ADHD & Light Sensitivity FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Do people with ADHD have light sensitivity issues?

Not all, but some people with ADHD report on being overly sensitive to light. While light oversensitivity is not an official symptom of this neurodivergent disorder, the association is still there.

Why is it important to address light oversensitivity?

Light sensitivity may seem like a trivial matter to some people, but its effects can be extensive, especially for some with ADHD. For instance, too much light and sounds can dissuade us from shopping at local grocery stores and opt for high-priced stores where the environment is calmer.

How can you manage light sensitivity?

There are various ways to manage light sensitivity. For instance, using a blue light filter, wearing sunglasses, and dimming the lights. Of course, if things become too overwhelming, it’s best to seek consultation to receive the right treatment.

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