You can take your light therapy, and stick it in your ear


November 9, 2011

The Valkee is a device that its makers claim can treat seasonal affective disorder, by shining light into the user's brain through their ear canals

The Valkee is a device that its makers claim can treat seasonal affective disorder, by shining light into the user's brain through their ear canals

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Many readers in the Northern Hemisphere are likely already starting to experience seasonal affective disorder, appropriately enough known as SAD. For those people fortunate enough not to be familiar with it, SAD is a mood disorder that is brought on by the shorter day-length experienced in winter - less sunlight results in gloomier people. One of the most common treatments involves regular exposure to bright artificial lights, that appear to psychologically serve the same purpose as sunlight. Now, one might assume that such light therapy would require that people see the light. According to the Finnish designers of the Valkee device, however, light also does the trick if you shine it up your ears.

The invention is based around the assertion that not only are our visual systems photosensitive, but so are our brains themselves. More specifically, there are apparently 18 sites in our brains, where OPN3 photoreceptor proteins are located. These regions will supposedly react favorably to exposure to light, even when that light is filtered through tissue and bone.

The Valkee itself looks a lot like a personal music player, complete with earbuds. Instead of emitting music, however, these buds contain fiber optic lights. By turning the device on and sticking the glowing fibers in your ears for about ten minutes a day, it is claimed that your brain will receive enough light to send the SAD packing.

Does it sound like quackery? A great deal of people would certainly say so. Not among those people, however, would be a group of scientists from Finland's University of Oulu. In two clinical trials, they had people with severe SAD use the device daily, for 8 to 12 minutes a day. Afterward, when those people completed a BDI-21 questionnaire (a standard for assessing depression), it was found that 92 percent of the subjects in the first trial had completely recovered.

The information presented by the company is definitely somewhat difficult to sort out, although it appears that the results of the second trial were similarly encouraging. A placebo group was included in at least one of the trials, to ensure that people weren't feeling better merely because they expected to.

All told, it's still pretty hard to know what to think. If you want to give it a try, the Valkee can be purchased from the company website for GBP185 (US$294).

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

$300 for a battery pack, led and a couple of feet of fiber optic cable? What are these guys selling? Medical equipment? Ohh.. yeah. I would guess DIY cost is about $30 or less at Radio Shack.


I can barely restrain myself from the obvious comment. But, I will.



Sounds like snake oil to me...only more expensive.

Carol Wilkerson

Yes, $300 seems a bit much, though I personally would love to try it out

Racqia Dvorak

. . . actually, 19.


@ Eideard, or Har dee har har?

Bill Bennett

If it works for SAD, I suspect it also works for treating jet lag. The price is definitely out of line, given the total costs of components, but ALL SAD full spectrum lighting kits for the treatment of SAD are overpriced. A trip to your local big-box hardware store to buy enough daylight-spectrum fluorescent bulbs and clamp lights to provide 10,000 lumens of daylight spectrum light would cost less than $100, as opposed to most SAD lighting which is $300 and up. However, the recommended time of skin exposure to those lamps is 30 minutes to 3 hours daily for treatment of SAD. Does shining light in your ear for only 10 minutes have so much greater effect? Hmmm. Some studies of SAD light treatment show that a green light is as effective as full spectrum lighting. As it happens, I just bought a very bright green laser pointer from Amazon for only $8.50. I wonder if I just stuck that in each ear for 10 minutes, how effective might it be?


I would love to test this.

Carlos Grados

Would be much more comfortable and convenient than gazing into a panel of very bright lights as a I do now, the standard SAD treatment. But the price is outrageous (typical for anything that gets classified as a medical device. I\'m going to try with some battery operated xmas lights.


8 lumens per ear is a good match for the tiny little white LED flashlight hanging from my keychain. It wouldnt have to be much smaller just to directly insert. I plan to keep an eye out for a smaller model :-) .

Bob Ehresman
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