This March is the 78th celebration of Save Your Vision Month, an annual practice spearheaded by the American Optometric Association (AOA). This year, the group aspires to promote “awareness around digital eyestrain and the importance of receiving regular, comprehensive eye exams from a doctor of optometry.”
This year’s campaign specifically focuses on the impact of blue light on a person’s health. Given that majority of Americans spend an average of seven hours per day glued to their digital devices, many of them are at risk of getting digital eyestrain.
What is blue light?
Blue light is virtually everywhere, even in nature. In fact, even sunlight contains at least 25-30 percent blue light, which is why in part we see the sky as blue. However, an article in Washington State University states that it “next to violet on the light spectrum,” indicating that blue light can have adverse effects on human health, particularly to our vision.
Many of the adverse effects attributed to blue light are often blamed to man-made sources of blue light, such as flat-screen televisions, display screens of smartphones, desktop computers, laptops, handheld consoles, and other digital devices that can emit significant amounts of blue light. While these devices only emit a fracture of blue light than what is being emitted by the sun, these devices are often used constantly by people. Aside from almost constant use, these devices are also in close proximity to our eyes.
Yet while the human anatomy is equipped to deal with UV rays, the same cannot be said for blue light. Blue light is the highest energy wavelength of visible light; as such, it is able to penetrate all the way to the back of the eye. It often renders the eyes’ natural filters as useless! Now imagine being exposed to such a harmful wavelength of visible light for prolonged periods of time, and therein lays the problem.
What problems can be caused by blue light?
Since blue light is able to penetrate the retina, it may have permanent effects to your vision. Experts believe that this damage can lead to more serious eye diseases, such as macular degeneration.
According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, macular degeneration afflicts over 10 million Americans, and is the leading cause of vision loss in the country. It is an incurable eye disease that is “caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, the inside back layer of the eye that records the images we see and sends them via the optic nerve from the eye to the brain.” Meanwhile, another portion of the retina, the macula, is “responsible for focusing central vision in the eye, and it controls our ability to read, drive a car, recognize faces or colors, and see objects in fine detail.”
Now, what does that have to do with your eyesight?
While the onset of macular degeneration does not significantly affect vision, it can trigger blurred or wavy vision as the disease progresses. Then, central vision would be lost altogether. Many with advanced instances of the disease are even considered legally blind!
Aside from macular degeneration, blue light is also known to cause or aggravate sleep disorders, headaches, blurred vision, eye strain, neck/shoulder pain, and dry eyes. Digital eyestrain is especially common.
Who is at risk of too much blue light exposure?
Everyone who uses digital devices excessively is prone to too much blue light exposure. This is particularly common among adults who often work in front of computers and keep their smartphones on them at all times to check on emails or to send text messages.
On the other hand, while it would be easy to say that adults are the only ones prone to being exposed to too much blue light, sadly this is not the case. Even teenagers and young children are often exposed to blue light with thanks to technology – particularly smartphones and large TV screens. What’s more, teenagers and school-age children are being asked by their teachers to submit homework or participate in other school-sanctioned online activity, thereby putting them at risk of too much exposure.
How do you minimize the effects of blue light?
Thankfully, there are number of ways through which you can minimize the effects of blue light. Firstly, use a blue light filter on your smartphone, computer screens, and tablets. These filters can significantly block blue light from reaching your eyes without compromising the clear quality of the display. What’s more, some of them are also made up of tempered glass so it is also an added protection for your device.
Secondly, you can also reduce blue light exposure by wearing computer glasses that are multicoated or are applied with a special solution that would block the blue light from entering your eyes. These glasses can be bought even though you do not have an eyeglass prescription, or if you have already traded your glasses for contact lenses. To make it even better, these lenses can even be incorporated with your prescription glasses, so you can see better while at the same time protecting your eyes from the harmful light.
Next, you can also try blue light blocking applications. For example, the iPhone has a special feature that blocks blue light come nighttime. Referred to as Night Shift mode, you can change the screen of your smartphone to emit a warm light instead of the normal blue.
Finally, you can ask all members of your family to ditch their gadgets at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Experts say that exposure to blue light before bedtime can suppress melatonin and hampers your ability to fall into deep sleep. So by removing the gadgets at night, you would be removing the exposure to blue light while at the same time helping your family get enough sleep.
While too much blue light exposure can cause significant eye damage, you would be able to combat its harmful effects by proper protection. Also, remember to follow the 20-20-20 rule: as the AOA says, “After 20 minutes exposure, take a 20-second break, to view something 20 feet away.”