Monday Medical: Blue light and eye health
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Worried about the effects of blue light on your eyes? You don’t have to be.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, blue light from electronic screens does not cause blindness.
“There’s been hype about blue light for a couple of years,” said Dr. Nathan Hamburger, an ophthalmologist in Steamboat Springs and a member of the medical staff at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. “But, the bottom line is, there’s no research to date that shows any detrimental effect on human eyes from blue light from screens.”
Concerns that blue light could cause blindness stem from a recent study showing blue light can cause a toxic buildup of a chemical called retinal, which is found in the eye.
However, the experiment was not designed to reproduce what happens in live human eyes, which are equipped to deal with the chemical. In addition, retinal does not naturally come into contact with susceptible parts of the eye.
“The study was taken out of context,” Hamburger said. “Even the authors said that they were not trying to infer that eyes could be damaged by blue light.”
Also important to understand is that electronic screens are not the largest source of blue light we receive.
“The largest source of blue light, even with screens, is the sun,” Hamburger said.
Tips for keeping eyes healthy
- Have a regular eye exam. It helps to keep tabs on your vision and identify eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, that often don’t have early warning signs.
- Wear protective eyewear to prevent injury.
- Wear sunglasses to protect eyes from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
- Reduce eyestrain by taking regular breaks when working at a computer and consciously blink.
- Eat right, maintain a healthy weight and don’t smoke.
But there are other detrimental effects from screens. Blue light exposure suppresses production of the hormone melatonin, so affects it your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Using screens before bed can disrupt sleep patterns.
“Consider turning on the blue light filters in your electronic devices,” Hamburger said. “That’s not for your eyes but for your brain, so you can, hopefully, get better sleep.”
At this time, Hamburger does not recommend using blue-light filtering glasses.
“Currently, there isn’t evidence that blue-light filtering glasses are helpful for your eyes,” Hamburger said. “And evidence that they help improve sleep is lacking.”
Another common problem with electronic screens is that people don’t blink as much as they should be when looking at a screen. That leads to eye dryness and irritation.
“It’s not the screen’s fault — it’s the intense visual stimulation,” Hamburger said. “If your eyes get dried out, your vision may be blurry. Your eyes may feel tired and strained or like they have sand in them.”
It’s an issue Hamburger often encounters with patients. But, there’s an easy fix.
“You should take breaks from screens and remember to blink. And you can also use artificial tears,” Hamburger said. “The mild to moderate blurring of vision and mild to moderate discomfort that people experience is usually relieved by conservative measures.”
However, if any eye issues continue, see your health care provider.
“If you have a persistent decrease in vision, persistent discomfort or you’re not getting sufficient relief with artificial tears, then come in,” Hamburger said.
And remember that ultraviolet radiation does pose potential threat to eye health.
“What’s detrimental to someone’s eyes is the UV radiation,” Hamburger said. “There’s evidence UV can cause cataracts, and we know it causes skin cancer on the eyelids.”
To prevent damage from UV radiation, wear sunglasses (or ski goggles) when you’re outside and apply sunscreen regularly.
Susan Cunningham writes for UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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