Background: Around 253 million people worldwide suffer from irreversible visual damage. Numerous studies have been carried out in order to unveil the effects of electrical stimulation (ES) as a useful tool for rehabilitation for different visual conditions and pathologies.
Objective: This systematic review aimed to 1) examine the current evidence of ES efficacy for the treatment of visual pathologies and 2) define the corresponding degree of the recommendation of different ES techniques.
Methods: A systematic review was conducted in MEDLINE and Cochrane Library database to collect documents published between 2000 and 2018. For each study, Level of Evidence of Effectiveness of ES as well as the Class of Quality for the treatment of different visual pathologies were determined.
Results: Thirty-eight articles were included. Studies were grouped according to the pathology treated and the type of stimulation administered. The first group included studies treating pre-chiasmatic pathologies (age-related macular degeneration, macular dystrophy, retinal artery occlusion, retinitis pigmentosa, glaucoma, optic nerve damage, and optic neuropathy) using pre-chiasmatic stimulation; the second group included studies treating both pre-chiasmatic pathologies (amblyopia, myopia) and post-chiasmatic pathologies or brain conditions (hemianopsia, brain trauma) by means of post-chiasmatic stimulation. In the first group, repetitive transorbital alternating current stimulation (rtACS) reached level A recommendation, and transcorneal electrical stimulation (tcES) reached level B. In the second group, both high-frequency random noise stimulation (hf-RNS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) reached level C recommendation.
Conclusions: Study's findings suggest conclusive evidence for rtACS treatment. For other protocols results are promising but not conclusive since the examined studies assessed different stimulation parameters and endpoints. A comparison of the effects of different combinations of these variables still lacks in the literature. Further studies are needed to optimize existing protocols and determine if different protocols are needed for different diseases.
Keywords: Electrical stimulation; high-frequency random noise stimulation (hf-RNS); hypovision; repetitive transorbital alternating current stimulation (rtACS); transcorneal electrical stimulation (tcES); transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS); visual damage.