Light: A Form of Therapy?

Published January 4, 2021

Author: Dr. Aaron Nichols

Excel Neuro-Optometric Clinic

Light therapy is now being used as a treatment to help people regain their quality of life following a brain injury.

What is light therapy?

Light has been a major area of focus in research for therapeutic uses. Light is composed of different wavelengths, from UV rays through the visible spectrum to infrared rays. The visible spectrum can be thought of as the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

Each color of the visible spectrum impacts the autonomic nervous system differently. Colors on the red spectrum stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, while colors on the green spectrum balance and calm the body, and colors on the blue and violet spectrum stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Syntonics, or optometric phototherapy, is the branch of ocular science that deals with the application of selected light frequencies through the eyes.

This treatment system has been used clinically for over 80 years in the field of optometry, with continued success in the treatment of visual dysfunctions, including:

  • Strabismus (eye turns)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • Focusing and convergence problems
  • Learning difficulties
  • Visual effects from stress and trauma

The autonomic nervous system following a traumatic brain injury (TBI)

The autonomic nervous system consists of two systems:

  1. “Fight or flight” (sympathetic nervous system)
  2. “Rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system)

When we are functioning normally, the two systems work in coordination with one another to control many of our body’s organs, including the eyes. The autonomic nervous system regulates and controls mood, emotion, sleep cycle, concentration, and more.

In the eyes, the parasympathetic nervous system controls our focusing when performing near point tasks, such as reading, looking at a phone or using a computer. 

Many patients who have sustained a TBI have decreased focusing ability which can cause eye strain while performing these near point tasks. 

Given that a TBI can result in sympathetic overdrive, it is no surprise that our focusing system, controlled by the parasympathetic system, usually suffers following a TBI.

How does light therapy work?

Those who practice the science of light therapy, also known as syntonics or optometric phototherapy, will offer this as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with office-based vision therapy. 

Light therapy is a “bottom-up” approach, as it does not require any input from the patient. Light therapy balances the autonomic nervous system to alleviate symptoms and help the patient function better.

Light therapy uses a range of medical devices with specific colors to help improve patient symptoms including headaches, eye strain, and light sensitivity.

If you are suffering from any symptoms listed above, or are interested in finding an optometrist who offers these services, speak to your local eye doctor or search for a doctor who has experience in light therapy.