Is The Nearsightedness Epidemic Over?
We are in the midst of a light epidemic and you probably don’t even know it. There is an overabundance of ultraviolet light (UV) and blue light (screens) and a deficiency in red and near infrared light. We are also in the midst of a nearsightedness or myopia epidemic. Up to a third of the world’s population by some estimates. The cause is most likely light deficiency. Specifically red and near infrared light deficiency.
Most of you have probably heard that it’s bookworms that get near sighted. You know….the heavy readers. This theory has been around a long time and it suggest that reading close up slowly changes the eyes. It turns out this isn’t the case.
It is true however, that research has shown that there is a strong association between education levels and myopia. What has now become crystal clear though is that this is a correlation, not a cause necessarily.
If you stop and think about it, the other thing that happens if you read and study a lot is that you spend time indoors. Out of sunlight.
Natural Light is the Key
In a Nature article titled The Myopia Boom, they had this to say on outdoor light time. “Based on epidemiological studies, Ian Morgan, a myopia researcher at the Australian National University in Canberra, estimates that children need to spend around three hours per day under light levels of at least 10,000 lux to be protected against myopia.”
This was back in 2015. However, they didn’t really extrapolate on the mechanism. Just that more time in sunlight was beneficial in preventing myopia.
So what is the actual mechanism?
Three recent studies from 2021 and 2022 shed some further “light” on the likely mechanisms.
Nearsightedness Study #1
The study titled Effect of Repeated Low-Level Red-Light Therapy for Myopia Control in Children found that 69.4% slowing of axial elongation and 76.6% slowing of myopic refraction progression. With nearsightedness the eye ball elongates, so if you can reduce this good things happen. The refraction is the strength of the glasses you would need. These are huge results showing how red light therapy can slow the deterioration of the eyes.
Nearsightedness Study #2
This 2021 study, Orthokeratology and Low-Intensity Laser Therapy for Slowing the Progression of Myopia in Children, also showed the benefits to red light therapy. It was looking to see if the red light would work as well as orthokeratology (wearing a contact lens to flatten the eye). They found that the LLLT worked better than the orthokeratology to control axial elongation and slow myopia progression. LLLT is also known as red light therapy or photobiomodulation.
Nearsightedness Study #3
The final study from 2022, Low-intensity, long-wavelength red light slows the progression of myopia in children: an Eastern China-based cohort, had similar results. They “underwent LLRT treatment (power 0.4 mW, wavelength 635 nm) twice per day for 3 min each session, with at least a 4-h interval between sessions, and a control group of 56 myopic children.” They concluded that “repetitive exposure to LLRT therapy (photobiomodulation) was associated with slower myopia progression and reduced axial growth after short durations of treatment.”
So, it would appear, that red light therapy prevents the progression of myopia.
As with all new research there are limitations and more research needs to be done but intuitively this makes sense.
Spend time outdoors. Children ideally need to spend approximately 3 hours outdoors per day to prevent myopia.
You can get your red light at home with photobiomodulation devices. However, you should seek advice from your health professional to ensure you are working within safe parameters. We are not offering medical advice or advocating irresponsible application of red light therapy or photobiomodulation.
The two general ways you can get red light therapy at home are the following.
Incandescent lamps such as TheraBulb provide red and near infrared light similar to what the sun provides. They have a full spectrum wavelength profile that includes red light and some heat. These can be used in a sauna or as a single lamp. Saunas should not be used for children under 6. Children should always be supervised around these lamps as they are a burn risk.
These simple lamps are becoming increasingly popular. You can purchase inexpensive lamps such as hand held units or more expensive panels. They are simple to use and quite safe. Staring directly into them is not advised due to the brightness of them.
Myopia or nearsightedness is an ever-increasing problem. Recent research in the photobiomodulation field is progressively showing that red light, and probably other wavelengths, have a protective effect on the eye. It slows and prevents the progression of myopia in children. It is not clear if this light will reverse the problem.
Light deficiency appears to be the cause of nearsightedness. I have been talking about light deficiency for years and firmly believe the public needs to be made more aware of it. As humans we need to spend time outside. We need to witness the sunrise. We should walk and play more. Try to work outside when we can. The benefits are becoming increasingly clear and now it seems that our vision might depend on it.
While this blog focuses on children there are many other reasons for us older folk should use red light therapy and photobiomodulation for our eyes. Research shows it can help with dry eyes, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, glaucoma, optic nerve injury and other conditions.
Yours in Health,
Dr Todd Lizon (Chiropractor)