Bright light therapy in focus: lamp emission spectra and ocular safety

Technol Health Care. 1996 Dec;4(4):403-13.


In recent years, bright light treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), recurrent depressions in fall and winter, has been discovered. Newer applications include circadian sleep phase disorder, shift work and jet lag. Apart from creating the visual signal, light can modify retinal structure and physiology. UV and visible light lead to distinct lesions of ocular tissues under certain experimental und naturalistic conditions. In light therapy, a large variety of fixtures is used but the spectral emission of lamps is mostly unknown to the user and clinician leading to the potential hazard of ocular lesions. Therefore, we have analyzed a wide selection of light sources commonly used for treatment. We measured the spectral emission and calculated irradiant doses for several light therapy regimens. Based on these measurements, potential hazards are analyzed, physiological mechanisms of light action are discussed and safety measures for bright light therapy are proposed. They include recommendations for lamps devoid of damaging spectral emissions and standardized therapy fixtures, ophthalmological monitoring of patients with eye diseases and control by optometrists for patients with healthy eyes who are likely to undergo light treatment for extended periods.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Equipment Safety
  • Eye / radiation effects*
  • Eye Diseases / etiology*
  • Eye Diseases / prevention & control
  • Eye Injuries / etiology
  • Eye Injuries / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Light / adverse effects
  • Phototherapy / adverse effects*
  • Phototherapy / instrumentation
  • Phototherapy / standards
  • Reference Values
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder / therapy
  • Ultraviolet Rays / adverse effects