The global COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented health concern, as well as the momentum to uncover the most effective treatments for this dangerous illness.
Over the course of the past year and a half, you’ve heard the terms vaccine and remdesivir repeatedly in news reports and in conversations about COVID-19 treatment. But how often have you heard light therapy discussed?
It turns out that light therapy may offer an exciting and promising coronavirus treatment. More research is currently underway to determine exactly how light therapy could play a role in controlling the pandemic.
A History of Using Light Therapy To Treat Viruses
Light therapy has been studied for its influence on viruses for decades. One study from 1998, for example, examined the effect of ultraviolet B (UVB) phototherapy on HIV, but found that UVB exposure had no significant effect on the virus.
Decades before, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, doctors used ultraviolet light to treat skin diseases, tuberculosis and rickets. They captured the failures and successes of this application of phototherapy, and we’ve used these insights today to make light therapy as safe and effective as possible.
During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the field of medicine was still in its infancy. Even basic antibiotics weren’t available! Light therapy using sunlight became one of the most effective ways to reduce flu-related mortality and person-to-person infection. Patients with severe Spanish flu infections recovered better when exposed to sunlight therapy compared to those treated indoors.
What Is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can infect people and animals. Viruses in this family can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which are dangerous illnesses, but are not as widespread as COVID-19.
The coronavirus in the news today is called SARS-CoV-2 and causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19. This infectious disease affects the upper respiratory tract, including the sinuses, nose and throat, as well as the lungs and windpipe. COVID-19 spreads from person to person through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
Most people who contract COVID-19 have mild symptoms that heal in days or weeks, but others become severely ill. Coronavirus symptoms typically appear after an incubation period of 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, including:
- Fever or chills
- Muscle and body aches
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of taste or smell
How Can Light Therapy Treat Coronavirus?
Thanks to years of research and clinical studies, we now have conclusive evidence that violet, blue, red and near-infrared (NIR) light offer incredible therapeutic value in the treatment of viruses such as COVID-19.
Blue light, for instance, is proven to have an antibacterial effect against many dangerous bacteria. It can be used to reduce the risk of bacterial infections associated with COVID-19.
Red light (600-700 nm) and NIR light (700-1000 nm) have the ability to reduce lung inflammation and fibrosis, both of which are major contributors to acute respiratory disorder syndrome, a leading cause of COVID-related deaths.
Recent research has shown benefit from certain types of light therapies, from ultraviolet A (UVA) light administered via the endotracheal tube to UVC light for disinfecting surfaces. As the potential for light therapy as a coronavirus treatment continues to grow, new clinical trials are being deployed. One clinical trial set for 2021 will apply red light therapy for patients with a COVID-19 complication known as acute lung inflammation. Patients will be exposed to red light while lying on their backs, with the light held at a 33-degree angle for 20 minutes on each side.
If You Think You Have COVID-19, See Your Doctor
While light therapy may show promise, it is not currently a safe way to treat yourself for coronavirus at home.
A COVID-19 infection requires medical care. If you’re experiencing health problems that align with coronavirus symptoms, consult your doctor right away. A medical professional can assist you in using medications or other therapies to fight the COVID-19 virus and help you recover faster.
COVID-19 can progress rapidly to cause more severe symptoms, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Persistent pain or pressure in your chest
- New confusion
- Inability to stay awake
- Blue lips, nails or skin
- Drop in blood oxygen
If you experience any of these more severe COVID-19 symptoms, seek medical care at an emergency room immediately.