One problem of living in a ‘sunburnt country’ is that we’re often squinting into harsh sunlight. Overexposure to light has been linked to premature vision loss, but the good news is that the damage could soon be treated and even reversed. Dr Krisztina Valter from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Vision Science at the ANU has found that near-infrared light has the power to protect and heal cells that have been damaged by intense brightness, helping us to keep our vision intact longer.
Currently, the best we can do to protect against light is to invest in a pair of wrap-around sunglasses, but once the damage has been done, it is permanent. However, Dr Valter’s research on rats has found that infrared light treatment can minimise eye damage even after overexposure to intense light, such as the Sun or a laser beam.
The team found that the treatment has the power to restore certain types of vision loss. “Excessive light can literally burn photoreceptors in the eye and cause blindness in minutes, but sometimes cells aren’t lost, they’re just stressed,” said Dr Valter. In these cases infrared light can renew photoreceptors and restore a patient’s sight.
Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done to bring back cells that have died. We’re only born with a set number of photoreceptors and no matter how good a treatment is, prevention is always better. The research team found that near-infrared has the potential to do both; it can also strengthen and protect cells before contact with bright light. “This could be used on people who are exposed to intense light as part of their job or lifestyle,” said Dr Valter.
We can never protect our eyes from damage completely and our vision will naturally deteriorate as we age, but infrared is the first treatment that can help us see clearly for longer.