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Noise or Light Irritation


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During the battle of Fallujah, Mike, a Marine officer, was wounded. He was told he had PTSD, but he thought it would go away on its own. He experienced severe headaches, problems with anger, and light sensitivity. After a friend encouraged him to seek support from VA, Mike began treatment for PTSD and TBI and is on the road to recovery.

What is noise or light irritation?

Do you find yourself squinting at any light—even if it’s not bright? Does noise cause you discomfort? Have you had headaches that make lights or sounds more painful to experience? These are all signs of noise or light irritation.

Light sensitivity (sometimes called photophobia) and noise sensitivity may make it difficult or painful to deal with even average lights or sounds. Light sensitivity can be related to sun glare, indoor florescent lights, or glare from a computer monitor. You may also have sound sensitivity to either loud or persistent noises around you. Sometimes, hypersensitivity to sound or light comes with headaches. Other times, hypersensitivity seems to occur on its own, with no headache. You may wonder why you have noise sensitivity or light sensitivity when you did not before, especially when not accompanied by a headache.

Some Veterans experience symptoms of noise or light sensitivity because of whiplash-related injuries from combat or accidents in military or civilian life. Veterans who have experienced possible traumatic brain injury may also have hypersensitivity to sound or light.

Sensitivity to light and sound can interfere with your work and daily activities. Being unable to tolerate average levels of light or sound can make it difficult to go outside, participate in social events, or do your job. Sometimes noise or light irritation is related to other health conditions that should be addressed.

If I’m experiencing noise or light irritation, what can I do about it right away?

“Sometimes the lights in stores can give me an immediate headache. My eyes will sometimes hurt after turning on a light or going outside in the sunshine.”

  • Learn what things trigger episodes of noise or light irritation, so that you can avoid them
  • Try darkening the room or wearing earplugs
  • Take breaks away from settings that you find difficult because of light and noise
  • Practice relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or meditation
  • Do your best to get the right amount of sleep

Certain drugs or medications may also cause hearing or vision problems. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking medication and want to know if it could be affecting your sensitivity to noise or light. You should never stop taking a prescription without first consulting a medical professional.

Talking to your family and friends can be a good first step. They may have already noticed that you have noise or light sensitivity and might be able to provide support and help you find out what’s causing your noise or light irritation.

Take the next step – Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with useful resources and effective treatments for managing noise or light sensitivity. If sound or light sensitivity, hearing loss, or vision problems are affecting your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
  • Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans
  • A mental health professional, such as a therapist or counselor, who may be able to teach you new skills for coping with your sensitivity to light and sound

Explore these resources for more information about noise and light irritation in Veterans.

Learn more about the possible associations between noise or light irritation and other issues such as problems with headaches, effects of traumatic brain injury, and posttraumatic stress.

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Noise or light irritation may be a sign of other health conditions that need attention. This website will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.

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