We don’t have evidence that blue light causes blindness, but it’s a good idea to take precautions.
A recently-released study from the University of Toledo states that exposure to blue light may accelerate blindness. Naturally, this has led to some amount of panic among people who use computers and smartphones, who are now wondering if their favorite devices are going to cause permanent damage to their eyes.
Will the blue light from your favorite electronic device make you go blind? Probably not, but it still doesn’t hurt to take a break from screen time every now and again. Here’s what we know about blue light and how we can cut back on our intake.
Blue Light and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
As it turns out, the attention-grabbing headlines about blindness are misleading. What the study actually suggests is that blue light might be an eventual cause of age-related macular degeneration, which is a disease of the retina that affects millions of (mostly older) people.
The macula, which is in the back of the eye, helps process images before they’re converted into electrical signals that are sent to the brain. As we age, the macula can develop yellow deposits called drusen. A little bit of drusen isn’t likely to alter vision, but too many drusen can cause the macula to malfunction and result in macular degeneration, which eventually causes vision defects.
The study showed that when blue light hits the light-sensitive cells in the macula, it causes a particular molecule to twist slightly, starting a chain reaction that can ultimately damage the cells. However, that chain reaction isn’t necessarily the end of the world. After all, sunlight has plenty of blue light (though less than the light from electronics has). That means it can’t be the case that any amount of blue light exposure causes macular degeneration, much less blindness.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know if electronic use makes the difference between developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) or not. The study didn’t present any evidence to support or refute this.
Protecting Your Eyes From Blue Light
The study did, however, suggest steps we can take moving forward. In the study, a Vitamin E derivative called alpha-tocopherol seemed to stop the chain reaction in its tracks, no matter how much blue light the macular cells are exposed to. That’s good news since it means that we might be able to develop a way to prevent macular degeneration. Thought alpha-tocopherol isn’t a cure, this is a good first step.
In the meantime, there are steps you can take to protect your eyes from harmful blue light. Firstly, you should turn off your screens when you’re not using them, especially when you’re trying to sleep. Our bodies have evolved to use blue light as a signal telling us when to wake up, and today’s 24/7 availability of blue light throws a wrench in that mechanism and can cause sleeping problems.
Blue light is also particularly difficult for our eyes to focus, so spending too much time in front of a screen can cause digital eye strain. Fortunately, yellow-lensed computer glasses can offset these effects, as can regular breaks from your screen.
If turning off or walking away from your device is a bridge too far, you can also engage the blue light filter that’s been built into most newer phones and tablets. It should help you sleep a little better — as should the knowledge that even if you do keep your phone on, you’re not going to go blind.
Concerned about your vision, or about the possibility of having AMD? The experts at the Swagel Wootton Eye Institute can assess the quality of your vision and help you determine the next steps in treatment. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.