As you step out of your infrared sauna, you’re likely to notice many differences in your body and mind. Your pain is dissipated, your mood is relaxed, your airways are invigorated--and your vision is green?
If you’ve ever experienced this particular version of “snow-blindness” you’ve probably wondered what effect infrared saunas have on your eyes. Is this an innocuous case of your eyes adjusting to the red light or is something more sinister going on?
Eye Damage from Infrared Radiation: NO
Google “eyes and infrared” and you’ll quickly find a 1984 study which connected near infrared radiation with cataracts. These researchers found that glassblowers, who are exposed to frequent near infrared rays as part of their profession, had a much higher incidence of cataracts than the greater population. This study is frequently cited to show the dangers of infrared saunas to eyesight.
However, the researchers didn’t adequately control for the chemicals, heat, and other hazards that glassblowers are exposed to, so their link between infrared radiation and cataracts is tenuous.
Many studies have since found that infrared radiation by itself does not negatively impact vision (in the metrics studied). One study saw no retinal damage after IR exposure; another found no evidence that IR stimulates any photochemical response in the eye.
Interestingly, a research team which exposed animal eyes to radiation to the point of damage found that while UV lights harm eye tissue through photochemical and photomechanical means, the damage caused by IR wavelengths was probably thermal in nature.
Eye Damage from Heat: MAYBE
Several voices, including the study mentioned above, claim that there is some risk of thermal damage to your eyes in the sauna. And there certainly is some risk: many of the benefits from IR saunas, after all, come from heat stress. Each body part responds to that stress differently.
However, the risk of ocular damage from sauna heat is very low. The temperatures achieved during an infrared sauna session are not known to be toxic to any component of the human eye, even with regular usage.
Wearing sunglasses in the sauna can shield your eyes from some heat, but the warmed blood behind your eyes will still carry heat.
Eye Damage from Light: YES
The infrared section of the light spectrum carries so many health benefits that we sometimes forget that it is light! Like looking at the sun, staring down a bulb in your infrared sauna can damage your vision.
To keep your eyes safe, don’t look directly at the bulbs or heaters, keep your eyes closed, or consider wearing sunglasses. A green tint when you leave the sauna is normal and safe, but it’s important to avoid exposing our eyes to direct bright lights for extended periods of time.