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Panic Attacks Linked to Fear of Bright Light

Panic Attacks Linked to Fear of Bright Light

A new European study suggests that panic attacks may be associated with an aversion to bright light.

Although the finding does not imply a cause-and-effect relationship, the discovery of an association may lead to development of new therapies for panic disorder.

Panic attacks occur when a person’s fear response is out of proportion for an often non-threatening situation. Panic disorder is different from normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events in our lives.

Panic disorder is a serious condition that affects 2.4 million Americans. Previous studies have shown that tit has a strong seasonal component.

The new European study is the first to look specifically at panic disorder patients’ reactions to light.

A group of researchers from the University of Siena (Italy) compared 24 patients with panic disorder (PD) against 33 healthy controls.

Using a standard Photosensitivity Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ), they found that healthy controls showed a slight (not statistically significant) tendency to be photophilic — that is, to be attracted to bright light.

In contrast, the patients with panic disorder showed medium to high levels of aversion to bright light.

The Photosensitivity Assessment Questionnaire asks subjects to agree or disagree with a series of questions about their attitude towards light, for example “My ideal house has large windows” or “Sunlight is so annoying to me, that I have to wear sunglasses when I go out.”

The mean values in the Photosensitivity Assessment Questionnaire were as follows: patients with photophobia scored 0.34 (± 0.32 SD), healthy subjects scored 0,11 (± 0,13 SD).

According to lead researcher Dr. Giulia Campinoti, “There have been several hints that photophobia is associated with panic disorder; for example in some people, fluorescent light can induce panic attacks. It had also been noted that people with panic disorder often protect themselves from light, for example by wearing sunglasses.”

Researchers admit the study was small and needs replication by a larger studies before the relationship between an abnormal fear of light (photophobia) and panic disorders can be confirmed.

However, if photosensitivity and panic attacks are related, then steps can be developed to avoid some of the triggers to panic attacks.

“It is important to note that our work shows an association, not necessarily a cause and effect. We don’t yet know exactly what the relationship might be, but there is probably some underlying biochemical basis,” said Campinoti.

Source: European College of Neuropsychopharmacology

Panic Attacks Linked to Fear of Bright Light

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Panic Attacks Linked to Fear of Bright Light. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 Oct 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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