If you are like most Americans, you spend most of your waking hours in front of a screen, be it a computer at work, a tablet at home, and a smartphone everywhere else.
All of these screens emit “blue light” that has wavelengths similar to the ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun. Although we know that sunlight can damage the eyes, there is not as much research on the effect of blue light on vision – until now.
One recent study, published in Scientific Reports, claims that extended screen time may be blinding us slowly.
Specifically, it found that blue light emissions combined with retinal, a normal molecule found in the retina, may permanently kill photoreceptor cells in the eye. Photoreceptor cells are necessary for vision, says Dr. Jayanth Sridhar, an ophthalmologist and vitreoretinal specialist from the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
“Photoreceptor cells consist of rods and cones,” he says. “These cells are able convert light into signals that are then sent to the brain and interpreted as whole images.”
The death of photoreceptor cells leads to age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is the main cause of vision loss in people over 50. There are two types of the eye disease – dry and wet. Dry AMD progresses slowly and affects your central vision and the way you perceive color.
“While the majority of patients with macular degeneration have the dry type, a small percentage progress and convert to the wet form, which lead to rapid and devastating vision loss,” says Dr. Sridhar.
Initial symptoms of AMD include:
- The need for brighter light when reading
- Increased blurriness of printed words
- Decreased intensity or brightness of colors
- Difficulty recognizing faces
Dr. Sridhar advises people to see an ophthalmologist if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. “If AMD is diagnosed early, diet and lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, can slow the disease progression,” he says.
Protecting your vision
There are steps you can take to protect your eyes from blue light. You can get special glasses for computer use or anti-reflective lenses. Another option is using filters on your devices that decrease the amount of blue light that is emitted from them.
You can also take care of your eyes by quitting smoking and eating a healthy diet that includes leafy greens like spinach and omega 3 rich foods like salmon.
The number one thing you can do about blue light damage? “We do not know for sure yet if blue light from screens causes or increases risk of macular degeneration. But these recent study results reinforce that to be safe we should practice moderation. So try and limit your time in front of screens and help friends and family do the same,” says Dr. Sridhar. “This is particularly important for children whose eyes are still developing.”
If you are someone who works in front of a computer all day, he suggests the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes gaze 20 feet in front of you instead of your computer screen for 20 seconds.
Natasha Bright is a contributor for UMiami Health News. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.