09/11/2011 08:54 GMT | Updated 09/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Light Therapy Earphones Offer New Hope For SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) Sufferers

Scientists believe that they have come a step closer to finding a cure for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), after successfully trialing a bright light headset that shines light in the ear canal.

Researchers from the University of Oulu in Finland tested an invention by Valkee, which is the shape and size of an MP3 player and is plugged into the ear which channels light through the ear into the brain.

During the study, scientists gave 89 participants who were suffering from SAD a 12-minute daily dose of the ear light therapy. Each morning over a four-week period, each person received a different intensity of light via the ear canal just after waking up.

Out of the 89 volunteers, 74 to 75% responded positively to the ear treatment and found that their SAD symptoms had improved. A further 62% who had the lower intensity light therapy said their seasonal depression had improved, as well as general anxiety levels.

"We have always been aware from previous research that the human brain is sensitive to light," says Juuso Nissila, Valkee's co-founder and chief scientist. "Our latest clinical trial, via the ear canal into the brain's photosensitive areas is far quicker and more effective way of preventing and treating symptoms of SAD."

Valkee and the University of Oulu have been studying brain photosensitivity and its therapeutic ability to help cure depression and sleep disorders, since 2007. Prior to the recent findings, Valkee discovered that the human brain responds to light via the ear canal and that the human brain, not just the visual system, is sensitive to light.

"These two trials show that bright light channeled into the brain via ear canal is an important future method to treat seasonal affective disorder," says professor Timo Takala, MD, PhD, and chief physician at the University of Oulu.

In the UK alone, 7% of the population suffer from the seasonal blues, caused by an imbalance in the brain, triggered by the lack of sunlight. If you're feeling down and think you may have SAD, find out how you can brighten up the darker days.