Panic attacks and photophobia

Clinical experience has long shown us how panic attacks often have a seasonal appearance, manifesting themselves more frequently in spring and summer, and how patients mostly present panic attacks in the time slot that goes from 6.00 in the morning. at 18.00.

It has long been speculated that the association between seasonality and panic attacks could be linked to variations in brightness.

An interesting study by Giulia Campinoti, presented at the last European congress of neuropsychopharmacology held in Berlin, found that photophobia , understood as extreme sensitivity to light, is significantly prevalent in subjects who have a diagnosis of panic attack when compared with a control group consisting of healthy subjects.

Scores indicating the presence of photophobia were even three times higher among subjects with panic attacks than in controls. This is the first study that specifically investigates a possible association between light sensitivity and Panic Disorder .

Several elements already suggested a link between sensitivity to light and panic attacks: for example in some subjects, fluorescent light can trigger panic attacks or it has been noted that subjects with panic attacks often protect themselves from light by wearing sunglasses and this does not for social phobic aspects .

In the Campinoti study, the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI) was administered to all participants and the self-completed version of the Panic-Agoraphobic Spectrum Assessment (PAS-SR) and the Photosensitivity Assessment Questionnaire (PAQ) was completed. The PAQ evaluates two aspects of photosensitivity: photophobia and photophilia (being attracted to light).

Subjects with any pathology that could compromise retinal function, subjects who had other psychiatric disorders and those taking drug therapies (benzodiazepines were allowed) were excluded from the study.

As expected, the group consisting of subjects with Panic Attacks had statistically significant high scores on the PAS-SR compared to the control group. The new finding was that the former showed high levels of photophobia and low levels of photophilia, always statistically significant, compared to controls.

When the entire group of participants, panicosis and non-panicosis, the total PAS-SR scores were significantly associated with the PAQ photophobia scores, which was confirmed by evaluating only subjects with panic attacks .

Clinical observations reveal the presence of a strong seasonal component in panic disorder associated with high photosensitivity. If these data are confirmed in the future they could contribute to better understanding the etiopathogenesis of the disorder, the course and the response to therapies.

It could be hypothesized that photosensitivity represents a characteristic and specific trait within the panic-agoraphobic spectrum which rests on specific biochemical bases that are currently unknown.

Also you may begin to understand why anxious components, included in depressive symptoms, sometimes are accentuated in subjects treated with light therapy (light therapy).


by Abdullah Sam
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