The way we light our world has fundamentally changed over the last decade in a way that has never happened in the history of man — our eyes are now exposed to as much light daily from electronics as from the sun. Smartphones, tablets, computer screens, LED TVs, and the federally-mandated CFL and LED light bulbs all emit high amounts of blue light which can cause serious issues for our eye care and our general health.
Most of us are glued to our tablets or smartphones from the moment we wake up, sending emails or texts or catching the morning news. We may then go in to work and stare at a computer screen for at least eight hours. Then perhaps go home to relax while surfing the Internet and catching up on our favorite TV shows. Then maybe we scan our social media pages, upload some photos and read a few more articles on our tablet before powering down our devices and turning out the lights. In fact, a recent study by Neilson found that adults spend 11 hours a day with electronic media. Never before have we been surrounded by so much artificial light and the negative long-term effects are just beginning to be understood. Not only can blue light cause eye strain and impair our daily vision, but it can also contribute to Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). This devastating disease starts with blind spots in the central vision, often leaving patients unable to read, drive or recognize their loved ones’ faces. A growing body of scientific studies also proves that blue light exposure late in the day can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle, leading to broader health problems.
What’s more alarming is that our children are using electronic devices on an average of seven hours a day, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It would be wildly irresponsible to let our children play in the sun without sunscreen, yet we let kids sit for hours with electronic devices inches from their faces — devices which emit a harmful light damaging their vision. From playing games on smartphones and computers at home to watching TV before bedtime and using tablets in the classroom, children are surrounded by high-energy blue light starting at a very young age.
When we are born, the lens within our eye is perfectly clear. As we get older our lens acquires Ocular Lens Pigment (OLP) as a natural defense against blue light and UV exposure; think of the process by which our skin turns darker to protect you from sunburn, but at a much, much slower pace. It takes us until around 65 years old to acquire a protective level of OLP. Our children are particularly vulnerable to damage from blue light exposure since they have larger pupils which allow more blue light in and they have not developed the natural protection in their lenses which is acquired as they age. Children also have a high amount of tablet and hand-held device usage, and they tend to hold these blue-light emitting devices closer to their eyes than adults.
There are several steps that I urge people to take to protect the vision of everyone in their family, from youth through retirement. One solution is blue light filtering lenses which exactly mimics the way in which a well-developed natural human lens manages this hazardous light. There are several coating based products on the market which can be applied to eyeglass lenses for those exposed to less than three hours per day of blue light. The most comprehensive lens product on the market for protecting eyes and overall health from blue light exposure are BluTech Lenses, which are actually a Phoenix-based company. I recommend BluTech for my patients who are exposed to blue light for more than three hours a day or high-risk patients such as children, post-cataract surgery patients or those with a family history of AMD. To address this issue, we need to also start to adopt some changes in our behavior and I strongly recommend to all of my patients that they limit the use of blue light emitting devices late in the day and shut everything down at least two hours before bedtime. We are only just beginning to understand the implications of blue light exposure, and from what we know so far, this is something we should all be concerned about and take very seriously.
• Dr. Joseph M. Reitano, with local Eye Care Professionals, has practiced optometry for 17 years. For more information on blue light and solutions to keep your family healthy, Reitano can be reached at (480) 732-9040.