Can looking into deep red light improve vision for patients with dry AMD?

Posted: Friday 03 July 2020

There have been a number of reports recently about a small LED torch, which emits deep red light helping to improve declining eyesight.

With lots of speculation surrounding the latest study, we have looked at the science behind the claims and if it could help patients with dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

What was the study?

The study by University College London, involving a small sample size of 24 people, has shown that staring at long wavelength light for three minutes every day can "significantly improve vision" in those aged 40 and above.

According to the researchers, cells in the eye's retina begin to deteriorate at around 40 years of age. The pace of this ageing is caused partly by a decline in the cell's mitochondria, whose role is to produce energy and boost cell function.

The researchers recruited 24 people, aged between 28 and 72, who had no eye disease to take part in their study.

The participants were given special LED torches to take home and were asked to gaze into its deep red 670nm light beam for three minutes a day for two weeks.

They were then retested for colour vision as well as for vision at low light levels.

The ability to detect colours improved by up to 20% in some people aged around 40 and over, the researchers said.

The ability to see in low light also improved significantly within the same age group, they added, although the improvements were not as dramatic as the gains seen in colour vision.

The effect was not seen in younger individuals who were aged below 40.

Will this treatment work for macular disease?

This is interesting research, but in another study the treatment was not found to be effective for patients with any type of macular disease. This may be because it wasn’t studied for long enough, so researchers hope to conduct a longer trial to determine if this could be an effective treatment for patients with the dry form of the condition. However, this treatment would not be advisible for patients with wet AMD. 

Lead author, Professor Glen Jeffery (UCL Institute of Ophthalmology) said: “We need to follow people for 3-5 years to see if we can stop Geographic Atrophy (GA) developing or slow it down. We only had funding for a year, which was not long enough to determine this.”

Has any light therapy been proven to treat macular disease?

This treatment is a similar concept to the Valeda Light Treatment.

While we don’t know enough about the effectiveness of the Valeda treatment to be able to recommend it, it is available at a number of private clinics across the UK.

There is some evidence from early stage clinical trials that it may benefit people with dry AMD but it is not yet a proven treatment.

It is not a cure but may help to improve vision. Repeat courses of treatment may be necessary to maintain any improvement.

The evidence comes from an early stage clinical trial, LIGHTSITE I. A larger clinical trial is underway, LIGHTSITE II, with two hospitals in the UK taking part in Great Yarmouth and Peterborough. Another trial, LIGHTSITE III is underway in the USA. It is hoped the results of these trials will be available within the next couple of years.