Most of us spend a lot of time on screens with school work, office work, and relaxing with our tablets or smartphones. The marvel of being able to connect with people on the other side of the globe or stream a movie directly into our lap has become commonplace and we often don’t consider the consequences of such technology.
Technology has become synonymous with our daily activities. It’s nearly impossible to imagine not having a phone to look up some fact or send a quick text to a friend. So many devices can have consequences besides being electronically overloaded! The blue light emitting from all of those screens can have an effect on our eyes, most notably in the retina.
Light can have both beneficial and harmful impacts on our vision. Blue light from UV light and technology reaches deeper into the eye and the cumulative effect can cause damage to the retina. Modern lighting (LED and compact fluorescent lamps) emit a high amount of blue light. The increased use of LED light in our homes and offices has become a concern for many reasons. Photoreception occurs in the retina and influences many different systems in the human body. Blue light is a major influence on our circadian rhythms (our sleep/wake cycle). In a 2009 article in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, it was reported that in older people, recent exposure to blue light significantly decreased their alertness and suppressed their sleep and melatonin production compared to younger people. Using devices, particularly at night when the body begins to ease into its sleep cycle, was particularly harmful. In the 60+ age population there has been a huge acceptance of technology and a high use of mobile devices. Using these devices in the evening could be leading to the higher than normal rate of insomnia that we are now witnessing in this population.
Macular degeneration and cataracts are also on the increase in our baby boomer populations. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be over 50 million people with cataracts in the United States! In a 2014 journal article in the Review of Optometry, the researchers published literature about the aging eye and the dramatic increase of blue light people had been exposed to in the prior ten years. The concerns raised were about the exposure to blue light from our homes and the use of tablets, TVs, and other electronics. The cumulative and constant exposure to blue light could lead to a greater risk of retinal cell death that can in turn lead to macular degeneration.
Nobody is going to stop turning on the lights at home or toss away their tablets! However, there are protective measures to help keep those peepers healthy. Reduce your screen time—I know, I know—and try to exercise your eyes with more reading in natural light. Take breaks from your computer and allow your eyes to refocus by using the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes take a 20 second break to look at something in the distance, about 20 feet away. This allows your eyes to get some much needed exercise and rest at the same time. There are apps you can buy to help filter out the blue light, or devices like the Ocushield for phones and laptops. Keep eating those bold coloured blueberries and blackberries, containing the antioxidant anthocyanins, these flavonoid pigments will help protect the eye.
With a rapidly changing modern world and an aging population, there are great benefits but also concerns with our advanced technology. Let’s all be wiser about our exposures and the preventative steps we can take to keep ourselves healthy! Don’t end up with the blue light blues!
Dr. Shelby Entner, nd is a sought-after naturopathic physician, speaker, and expert. After receiving her doctorate in 2002, Dr. Entner went on to practice in the United States for several years before returning to BC and eventually founding Vero Health in Vernon. She enjoys a busy practice with her award-winning team of practitioners and staff and loves living in the Okanagan with her young family.
Article was published in The Good Life magazine.