Can Red Light Therapy Damage Your Eyes?

Red light therapy is a popular treatment for a variety of conditions, from acne to arthritis. Recent studies suggest that red light may also protect our eyes as we age. But eye experts warn that the practice has not been well studied in humans, so it is important to be aware of the potential risks. The truth is that phototherapy can cause damage to the eyes.

Red light therapy involves exposing your skin to a lamp, device, or laser with red light. This light is absorbed by cells called mitochondria, which are sometimes referred to as “energy generators” of cells. It is believed that this helps cells repair and become healthier, stimulating healing of skin and muscle tissue. This biological process is called energy conversion and is based on the theory that biological molecules activated by light can reach an electronically excited state from baseline, resulting in changes in conformation and functions, thus inducing the activation of certain signaling pathways to mediate metabolism and recovery.

Research suggests that red light is particularly effective in neuroprotection, meaning it reduces pressure damage to the cornea and retinal ganglion cells. A study involving 231 eyes found that red light therapy treatment was associated with decreased pressure on the optic nerve, which is the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. This can help prevent damage or death of eye cells. Premature infants with shortness of breath often receive supplemental oxygen, which can lead to retinal damage, loss of vision, and even blindness.

Near-infrared light therapy (NIR), or photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), has been found to be beneficial in reducing age-related retinal inflammation and lipid peroxidation in retinal degeneration. Overall, red light therapy appears to be safe and is not associated with any side effects, at least if used short-term and as directed. Lasers can produce efficient coherent light energy to allow high tissue penetration, and such a constant beam delivers energy to circumscribed areas. However, it is important to note that the practice has not been well studied in humans, so it is best to consult with an eye specialist before trying it at home.