Infrared light or infrared radiation is a light source that humans can’t see. However, you can sense the high temperatures of infrared light. When in daylight, you expose the human eye to short wavelengths of infrared radiation. In the home, there are many devices that utilize infrared light to operate electronics.
So how can this invisible light affect your eyesight? Can it damage your eyes or is it harmless? Continue reading to find out what infrared light is, what it’s commonly used for, and how it can affect your eyesight.
What is Infrared Light?
Infrared light is a type of electromagnetic radiation at wavelengths between 780nm and 1000µm. There are three different spectrums that divide light:
- Near infrared (NIR) with wavelengths of 0.78~3.0µm
- Mid infrared (MIR) with wavelengths of 3.0~50.0µm
- Far infrared (FIR) with wavelengths of 50.0~1000µm
Atoms are absorbed and subsequently release energy causing the effects of infrared light. Electromagnetic radiation will include the following from highest to lowest frequencies:
- Gamma rays
- UV radiation
- Visible light
- Infrared radiation
- Radio waves
All of these types of radiation frequencies make up the electromagnetic band.
The wavelengths of infrared light are longer than visible light and that’s why humans can’t see it. As mentioned before we can feel the heat of infrared light. Additionally, all objects emit some form of infrared radiation. The human body emits infrared as well as animals, electronics, fire and the sun.
The Use of Infrared Light
Since the discovery of infrared light in 1800 by William Herschel, innovators have designed an array of devices for residential, commercial and industrial applications, using this type of light. In this section, we’ll discuss what infrared is commonly used for.
In the Home
There are many items in the home that use infrared to operate. Luckily, these items emit low range infrared so they won’t have a negative effect on your eyesight.
An infrared light inside a remote carries a signal from the remote to a device it controls to operate it. Remotes change channels on TVs, operate light switches, turn on AC systems and prompt gate motors.
Incandescent Light Bulbs
Incandescent light bulbs emit 95% of their electrical energy as infrared light.
An infrared lamp heats up bathrooms, saunas and there are types that warm plates & cups. Furthermore, these lamps heat up tanks for reptile pets such as bearded dragons and snakes.
On the Job
Since infrared wavelengths are invisible to the human eye, there are devices such as infrared cameras that assist plumbers and electricians to locate pipes & wires. Hunters use infrared optics to see animals behind thick bushes and firefighters use the devices to locate people in buildings.
The Effects of Infrared Lights on the Eyes
Infrared light in high concentrations and intensity can have a negative effect on the eyes. The development of new technologies brought about stronger sources of infrared light. High exposure to infrared light can cause eye damage, such as retinal burns from welding.
The exposure to infrared light has been connected to many eye injuries caused mainly by the thermal effects of the light. The wavelengths associated with these injuries range between 780nm and 1400nm.
Note that incandescent bulbs and infrared lamps aren’t powerful enough to cause extreme damage to the eyes. However, you should never stare directly into any light source, such as the sun or bulbs, for long periods of time because it can cause irreversible damage to the retina.
When you stare at a light source, the ultraviolet rays can harm the tissue of parts of the eye, like the retina. This is what happens when you stare directly at the sun and the short term damage is called solar keratitis. Symptoms of solar keratitis include pain, inflammation and light sensitivity.
High-intensity damage caused by infrared light is called solar retinotopy which is the result of UV light burning holes in the retina part of the eye. It causes central blind spots known as scotoma.
Infrared Light Therapy
Intense infrared light can damage the eyes but studies show that the use of it can reverse the effects of light damage to the retina. A treatment called red light therapy heals skin and muscle tissue. The red light distributes low levels of near-infrared light.
This type of therapy is also known as low level laser therapy (LLLT), photobiomodulation, and low power laser therapy. Studies show that it’s safe for the eyes and has the potential to protect your vision. Red light therapy increases the healing process of people who have inflammation or damaged eyes.
Red Light Therapy Explained
Natural light stimulates mitochondria in your cells which increases the production of Adenosine 5-triphosphate (ATP). The ATP is the molecule responsible for storing and transferring energy in cells. The red light therapy fights against macular degeneration which optimizes the cells inside your eyes, even as you age. Therefore, high quality red light therapy devices can deliver safe wavelengths of natural light to increase cellular energy production.
These devices have integrated medical LEDs that shine natural red and near infrared light onto your body. This acts similar to the wavelengths produced by the sun but without the UV rays and heat. This is an example of how the benefits of infrared light can be harnessed to serve a great purpose.
To clarify, in order to perform red light therapy, people stand in front of a red lamp between six and 15 minutes a day. This will give the mitochondria in the cells the natural light they need to accelerate the energy that powers your body.
To sum up, high intensity infrared exposure can damage the eyes and cause loss of vision. But low near-infrared light can assist with healing the body and the eyes. There have been studies in the past that state that near infrared light can stop further damage to retinal cells and prevent blindness. It’s all about how you use this valuable resource.