There’s no escaping it: we live in a device-driven society. Indeed, we can be slaves to our devices. I see people looking at their phones as they walk down the street, fiddling with the phone while they’re driving, looking at their phones during dinner instead of talking to their loved ones.
I guess some people think this is harmless – or at least impossible to change at this point in our culture — but it turns out that our beloved smartphones and computers could accelerate blindness.
This is important to know. . .
According to new research from the University of Toledo1,2, the screens of electronic devices transmit blue light, which can damage the light-sensitive cells known as photoreceptors located in the retina of the eye.
This can lead to macular degeneration, a major cause of vision loss that affects 1.8 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control3.
But before you toss out your devices, let’s take stock of the evidence, and consider some simple ways to reduce the potential risks …
Scientists have long known that blue light harms vision by damaging the eye’s retina. However, researchers at the University of Toledo wanted to figure out why this happens, and what can potentially help.
Mechanism by which Blue Light Promotes Macular Degeneration
Macular degeneration occurs when the photoreceptor cells of the eyes die. These cells need molecules called “retinal” to sense light and transmit images to the brain.
“You need a continuous supply of retinal molecules if you want to see,” said Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, the study’s lead author in a press release. “Photoreceptors are useless without retinal, which is produced in the eye.”
The University of Toledo lab found that if a blue light is shined on the retina a toxic reaction occurs that kills photoreceptor cells.
Fellow researcher Kasun Ratnayake, PhD, noted that these photoreceptor cells do no regenerate in the eye.
“When they’re dead, they’re dead for good,” he said.
This Form of Vitamin E May Help
The researchers found that a molecule named alpha tocopherol stops the cells from dying. Alpha tocopherol is one of the eight forms of vitamin E and is a natural antioxidant in the eye and body. But don’t assume it will solve the problem. As people age, they lose their ability to fight against the attack by retinal and blue light.
“That is when the real damage occurs,” Dr. Karunarathne said.
Blue light is emitted from not only our phones and laptops, but also natural sunlight. Here are some tips to minimize damage:
- Reduce screen time, especially at night when the energy from transmitted blue light is more intense and can therefore cause more damage to retinas.
- Use special filter settings offered on smartphones that reduce the blue light that is displayed on the screen.
- Try special glasses that can block damaging blue light.
My commonsense takeaway from this study is, “Decrease the time you spend on your devices.” Some of us can’t avoid long periods of time peering at a computer screen at work. If this is the case, try closing your eyes for a short time, or gazing into the distance for a while. Or better yet, get up and take a short walk or chat with someone in person instead of virtually!