Blue Light: The Visible Danger

By Stephen Cohen, O.D.

Over the past decade, our lives have been transformed due to smartphones, tablets and other handheld devices. These devices are backlit by LED light. Also, legislation has been implemented that require that incandescent light bulbs be replaced by more energy efficient LED bulbs. Unfortunately, this change in technology has come with a price tag: these devices emit high levels of “blue light.”

Think about the colors of the rainbow. On the spectrum, blue light is right next to ultraviolet radiation (UV). We know that UV (which we cannot see) can be damaging to our skin and to our eyes. Its neighbor, blue light, has been found to cause numerous problems in higher and extended doses. Although the sun is the major source of all wavelengths of light, including blue light, we have experienced a tremendous increase in blue light exposure in other settings, such as in our office, on our laptop and even in our beds when we tend to use our smartphones and tablets before going to sleep.

Here are some of the challenges we now face. Blue light suppresses melatonin, which helps us fall asleep. Using a smartphone in bed for a short time in anticipation of sleep actually wakes us up. Apple has come up with an adjustment to turn down the blue light at night in an attempt to counteract this problem for its iPhone users. Blue light also causes significant eyestrain. This can affect visual comfort, moods and behavior, whether for adults in an office, or, more significantly, for children in a classroom.

There is growing evidence that long-term exposure to blue light (which has been found to penetrate deeper into our eyes) may contribute to Macular Degeneration later in life. Protecting your eyes now will not only help to improve your quality of life today, it can help in the future as well. There are now coatings that can be applied to lens surfaces that block UV, glare and blue light. This can enhance clarity (since the “blue” end of the visible spectrum tends to be more distorting), reduce strain and protect your eyes. Special filters on computer/tablet screens can reduce blue light exposure. Using the adjustment settings on your smartphone can also reduce exposure to higher levels of blue light.

We are familiar with the term unintended consequences, where some advance provides benefits but can also cause unanticipated challenges. Such is the case with lighting changes that were made for environmental benefits. So, while we help to protect our environment, let’s protect our eye health and visual comfort as well.

 


Photo credit: Japanexperterna.se via Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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