Skip to main content
  • Can Red Light Therapy Slow Nearsightedness in Children?

    Reviewed By Laura B Enyedi, MD
    Published Apr. 01, 2024

    Myopia, or nearsightedness, happens when the eye grows too long from front to back, making distant images out of focus and blurry. Myopia is common among children of all ages and is becoming a major public health problem, with the number of Americans who are nearsighted nearly doubling in the past 50 years. This is a concern because children who have severe nearsightedness may be at risk for having more serious vision problems later in life.

    It’s important for parents to understand that some treatments, such as eye drops and special contact lenses and glasses, have shown success in slowing down the progression of nearsightedness in children, but other alternatives have yet to be proven safe and effective.

    One of those unproven alternatives is called repeated low level red light therapy. Early studies in other countries seem promising, but ophthalmologists are concerned that this treatment could be harmful to a child’s vision if not carefully administered.

    What Is Red Light Therapy? 

    Red light therapy is done through devices that deliver low-level red light directly into the eye daily or multiple times per day for several minutes at a time. This treatment has been shown to increase blood flow to the tissues of the eye, but how it works for nearsightedness is unknown.

    Red light therapy is available in China and other Asian countries, Australia, and some European countries. This treatment method has not been tested in the United States and it has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

    Benefits of Red Light Therapy

    Some studies done in China suggest that red light therapy can prevent or slow down the progression of nearsightedness in children. These studies included relatively small numbers of children who were treated over a short period of time. More information is needed about the long-term effects of treatment and about the safety of the lasers used. Many of the devices tested in these studies are not available in the U.S.

    Risks of Red Light Therapy

    A recent study in the US suggested that red light therapy with several available red light instruments could cause retinal damage. The researchers warned physicians to treat red light therapy with caution until safety standards can be confirmed.

    Unregulated red light devices can be found online, which raises concerns among physicians in the U.S.

    “I understand the desire to slow down nearsightedness when your child’s glasses or contact lens prescription seems to be constantly changing,” said Laura Enyedi, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at the Duke Eye Center in North Carolina. “But there simply is not enough information to assess the safety of red light therapy, and the devices available in the US are not regulated and could damage your child’s retina, leading to loss of vision. Right now, your best option is to make some simple changes for your child such as reducing screen time, increasing outdoor time for your child, and asking your child’s ophthalmologist about other potential solutions, such as low-dose atropine eye drops or special contact lenses which are approved by the FDA.”