Researchers are investigating the use of low level light therapy (LLLT) for dry eye disease. The red light may help stimulate your meibomian glands, which keep your eyes wet.
Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when your eyes don’t stay moist. It’s typically treated with over-the-counter or prescription eye drops.
Low level light therapy (LLLT) has been around since the 1960s and is often used to treat skin damage. It involves using red and near-infrared wavelengths of light to reduce inflammation.
IPL vs. LLLT
Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is another longstanding dermatology (skin-related) treatment that is now being used for dry eye.
IPL targets inflammation using bright bursts of light that generate heat in your blood vessels. It likely helps with dry eye by warming the oil in your meibomian glands.
LLLT, on the other hand, uses non-visible wavelengths of light. It’s non-thermal, which means it doesn’t generate heat.
Unlike IPL, LLLT can be applied to areas that are sensitive to intense light, such as your eyelids. LLLT is also considered safe for all skin types.
The authors of a small 2023 study involving 40 people with dry eye reported that LLLT may be more effective than IPL at relieving dry eye symptoms.
It may also be beneficial to combine IPL and LLLT treatment.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is a common underlying cause of dry eye disease. LLLT likely helps with dry eye by stimulating an immune system response in the meibomian glands at the cellular level. This process is known as photoactivation.
In photoactivation, non-visible light energy is absorbed into cells. When applied to the meibomian glands, this energy may improve their overall function.
Although research into the use of LLLT for dry eye is ongoing, a small
The study included 40 people with dry eye who randomly received either LLLT or a placebo treatment. The authors reported that after only six LLLT sessions, participants experienced a significant improvement in symptoms linked to dry eye.
Other research has focused on the combined use of IPL and LLLT. For example:
- In a 2019 study with 230 participants, researchers reported that a short course of IPL/ILLT significantly improved meibomian gland function.
- The authors of a 2021 study involving 156 participants who received combined IPL/LLLT found substantial improvements in dry eye symptoms up to 15 months after the treatment.
- Another 2021 study focused on IPL/LLLT for dry eye disease in 20 people with Sjögren disease. The authors indicated that the treatment is likely beneficial.
- Lastly, the authors of a 2023 review of six studies concluded that combined IPL and LLLT can help people who have dry eye disease caused by meibomian gland dysfunction.
However, more research is needed to explore the benefits of LLLT as a stand-alone therapy.
LLLT is considered safe. None of the studies listed in the previous section identified any risks or complications associated with LLLT for dry eye.
Typically, you will undergo LLLT at a clinic under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
For the procedure, you’ll sit in a chair while wearing a face mask that emits low level light for 15–30 minutes. You should close your eyes while receiving LLLT.
After the treatment, you can go back to your usual activities right away.
If you’re considering LLLT for dry eye, you might have additional questions such as those below.
How much does low level light therapy cost?
LLLT isn’t typically covered by insurance. Anecdotally, it can range from around $75–300 per session depending on your provider and where you live, and you may need to do more than one session to experience results.
Does low level light therapy hurt?
LLLT is a noninvasive procedure. You should not feel any pain while wearing an LLLT mask.
Is LLLT safe?
LLLT is generally considered safe. It carries a very low risk of side effects and complications.
LLLT is an up-and-coming treatment for dry eye. It delivers specific wavelengths of non-visible light to your eye area through a face mask. This process stimulates your meibomian glands to secrete oils that keep your eyes moist.
Most studies conducted to date have shown that when used alongside IPL, LLLT is an effective treatment for dry eye. But more research is needed to explore the effectiveness of LLLT alone.