Am I Blue?


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– By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

When we see a rainbow, it is the composite of colors of visible “white light” radiation.  On one end is “blue” light, which comes right after Ultraviolet Radiation (UV).  The potential damaging effects of UV are well known.  It can contribute to skin damage (aging, cancer) and contributes to cataract development in the eyes.  It has now been shown that the blue end of the visible spectrum of light can penetrate deeper into our eyes and may contribute to conditions such as macular degeneration.  The macula is the sensitive part of the retina that gives us our central, sharp vision.

Blue light comes from the sun, but is also emitted by overhead lighting, hand held devices, smart phones, and computers. Blue light also stimulates the pituitary gland.  This is part of the process that tells us it’s time to wake up in the morning.  It is, therefore, interesting that when people pick up their iPad or iPhone when they have trouble sleeping, they are actually further stimulating their “wake-up” system.

There are several things that can be done to protect our eyes from UV and blue light.  Most sunglasses include UV protection, but might not carry over into the blue end of the visible spectrum.  However, there are coatings (virtually clear) that can be added to any glasses that blocks UV and blue light, as well as reducing glare that can cause strain.  There are also supplements that can help to protect the backs of our eyes.  Many of you may have heard of “Lutein,” which is a retinal metabolite that protects the back of our eyes.  There are now products that have this plus two other important supplements that help to maintain the thickness of the sensitive part of our retinae, which, in turn, helps to block UV and blue light.  The right type of Omega-3’s could also protect the back of the eyes.

There are modifiable risk factors for macular degeneration (e.g., smoking, high BMI, fatty diets, sun/blue light exposure, thinning of the macula) and non-modifiable risks (e.g., age, female greater than male, light colored eyes or skin, family history, inherited inflammatory disease).  A low-fat diet with plenty of green, leafy vegetables, as well as supplements and lifestyle modifications can help to prevent this debilitating disease.  Your eyes will thank you for it!

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