Infrared & Near Infrared light therapy and the effect on Eyes

Infrared & Near Infrared light therapy and the effect on Eyes

Red light and near-infrared (NIR) light therapy have generated huge attention for their therapeutic benefits, including pain relief, wound healing, and anti-inflammatory effects. However, as with any form of light therapy, it is essential to recognize the potential risks, particularly regarding eye health. Prolonged or improper exposure to these types of light can lead to cataracts and other eye damage. Understanding these risks and implementing mitigation strategies is crucial for safe practice.

How Red Light and Near-Infrared Light Therapy Can Cause Eye Damage

Red light (620-750 nm) and near-infrared light (750-1400 nm) are part of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelengths longer than visible light. They penetrate the skin deeply, which contributes to their therapeutic benefits but also poses potential risks to the eyes.

Cataracts and Lens Damage

Cataracts are a significant concern with red and near-infrared light exposure. The lens of the eye is highly susceptible to damage from prolonged exposure to these wavelengths. Infrared radiation, particularly in the near-infrared range, can cause the proteins in the lens to denature and aggregate, leading to opacification, or clouding, of the lens. This condition impairs vision and can progress to complete blindness if untreated.

A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology highlighted the risk of cataracts in industrial workers exposed to high levels of near-infrared radiation. The study found a higher prevalence of cataracts among these workers, often referred to as "glassblower's cataracts," due to the thermal effects of the radiation on the lens . This example underscores the potential for similar risks in therapeutic contexts if proper precautions are not taken.

Retinal Damage

The retina, a sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye, can also be affected by red and near-infrared light. These wavelengths can penetrate deeply enough to reach the retina, and intense exposure can cause thermal damage. This damage occurs because the absorbed light energy can increase the temperature of retinal tissues, leading to burns and other thermal injuries. Such damage can result in vision impairment or loss.

Research conducted by Ham et al. (1976) demonstrated that high-intensity near-infrared radiation could cause retinal burns in laboratory animals. The study observed that retinal damage was directly correlated with the rise in tissue temperature due to infrared exposure. This finding highlights the potential risk to humans exposed to similar conditions, emphasizing the need for protective measures during red and near-infrared light therapy .

Corneal Damage

The cornea, the eye's outermost layer, is another vulnerable structure. Although red and near-infrared light do not penetrate as deeply into the cornea as they do into the lens and retina, prolonged exposure can still cause thermal damage. This can lead to conditions such as keratitis, which is an inflammation of the cornea resulting in pain, redness, and blurred vision.

A study in the American Journal of Ophthalmology reported significant corneal damage in rabbits exposed to prolonged near-infrared radiation. The corneas showed signs of inflammation and structural changes, highlighting the potential risks to humans under similar exposure conditions .

Mitigation Strategies to Protect Eye Health

Given the potential risks associated with red and near-infrared light therapy, it is essential to implement strategies to protect eye health. Here are several effective measures:

Protective Eyewear

One of the most effective ways to safeguard the eyes from red and near-infrared radiation is wearing appropriate protective eyewear. Specially designed IR-blocking goggles or glasses can significantly reduce the amount of infrared radiation that reaches the eyes. These protective devices are often made from materials that absorb or reflect infrared radiation, preventing it from penetrating the eyes.

A study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene emphasized the importance of protective eyewear for workers exposed to infrared radiation. The researchers found that using IR-blocking goggles significantly reduced the incidence of eye injuries among workers in high-risk environments. For individuals undergoing red and near-infrared light therapy, wearing such protective eyewear can similarly mitigate the risks .

Controlled Exposure

Limiting the duration and intensity of red and near-infrared light exposure is another crucial strategy. Following recommended guidelines for therapy sessions, including specific duration and intensity levels, helps prevent overexposure. Avoiding prolonged exposure reduces the cumulative thermal effects on the eyes, thereby minimizing the risk of damage.

Research suggests that short, controlled sessions of red and near-infrared therapy are effective for therapeutic purposes while posing minimal risks. A study in the Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology examined the effects of varying durations of infrared exposure on human skin and eyes. The researchers concluded that controlled exposure, adhering to recommended guidelines, did not cause significant adverse effects, highlighting the importance of regulated usage .

Equipment Quality and Safety Features

Using high-quality red and near-infrared therapy equipment with built-in safety features can significantly reduce risks. Modern infrared therapy devices are often equipped with filters or shields designed to block or limit infrared radiation from reaching the face and eyes. These safety features ensure that the therapeutic benefits of infrared light are delivered without exposing the eyes to harmful levels of radiation.

Manufacturers of medical and therapeutic infrared devices often adhere to strict safety standards. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provides guidelines for the safe use of infrared radiation-emitting devices. Ensuring that equipment complies with these standards can provide additional assurance of safety .

Professional Guidance

Seeking professional guidance before starting red or near-infrared light therapy ensures that it is appropriate for your specific condition and that you receive tailored advice on safe usage. Healthcare professionals can provide recommendations on the type of therapy, appropriate duration and intensity, and necessary protective measures based on individual needs and risks.

A review article in the journal Lasers in Medical Science highlighted the importance of professional supervision in the safe application of light-based therapies. The authors emphasized that healthcare professionals can assess individual risk factors and provide personalized guidance to maximize benefits and minimize risks. Consulting with professionals can help ensure that red and near-infrared light therapy is both effective and safe .

Regular Eye Check-ups

Regular eye check-ups can help detect early signs of damage caused by infrared exposure. Routine examinations by an eye care professional can identify changes in the lens, retina, or cornea before they progress to more severe conditions. Early detection allows for timely intervention, potentially preventing further damage and preserving vision.

A study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that regular eye examinations were effective in detecting early-stage cataracts and other eye conditions in individuals exposed to occupational hazards, including infrared radiation. The researchers recommended regular screenings as a preventive measure to protect eye health. For those undergoing red and near-infrared therapy, periodic eye check-ups can provide an additional layer of safety .

Red and near-infrared light therapy offers numerous therapeutic benefits, but it is crucial to be aware of the potential risks to eye health, including cataracts and other forms of eye damage. By taking appropriate precautions such as using protective eyewear, limiting exposure, using quality equipment, seeking professional guidance, and undergoing regular eye check-ups, these risks can be effectively mitigated. These strategies ensure that individuals can safely benefit from red and near-infrared light therapy without compromising their eye health.


  1. British Journal of Ophthalmology. Study on the prevalence of cataracts among glassworkers.
  2. Ham, W. T., et al. (1976). "Retinal burns from IR-A radiation," Archives of Ophthalmology.
  3. American Journal of Ophthalmology. Study on corneal damage due to IR radiation in rabbits.
  4. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. Research on the effectiveness of IR-blocking goggles.
  5. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology. Study on the effects of varying durations of IR exposure.
  6. ANSI guidelines for the safe use of infrared radiation-emitting devices.
  7. Lasers in Medical Science. Review on the importance of professional supervision in light-based therapies.
  8. Archives of Ophthalmology. Study on the effectiveness of regular eye examinations in detecting early-stage cataracts.
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