Light relief for SAD sufferers
It's no surprise to learn that a company from northerly Finland has come up with a new way to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that can affect up to 20% of people living above or below 30 degrees latitude. But what is unusual about the bright light headsets produced by the Oulu-based firm Valkee is that they are used to shine light into sufferers' brains via their ear canals rather than their eyes.
The human brain has photosensitive areas that react to the lack of light, resulting in mood swings and even serious depression. Bright desk-top or bedside lights have long been known to help SAD sufferers, but scientists from the University of Oulu have discovered that counter-intuitively the most effective route to deliver light to the brain seems to be via the ear canal, where our skulls are thinnest.
Studies are continuing, but in clinical tests an amazing 9 patients out of 10 experienced total relief of symptoms after using Valkee headsets for just 8-12 minutes a day for 4 weeks. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the headsets could also ease other problems including migraine and jet lag.
Lifeline Ventures partner Timo Ahopelto, who is also Valkee's interim CEO, reckons that the potential global markets for headsets are huge. "SAD affects all populations living more than 30 degrees away from the Equator. Even in Florida 4% of the population may be affected, and at the latitude of New York the figure rises to 20%," he explains.
Headsets in stylish black or white design options have been a hit on the Finnish market this winter. "We're already seeking funding with the aim of running a pan-European launch later this year," adds Ahopelto.