Blue light – a major part of the spectrum of light coming from video screen – is a hot topic these days among ophthalmologists and optometrists.
Adults are spending more time on computers and digital devices. It’s important to consider whether that’s causing damage to our eyes.
“I tell my patients to think about how a dermatologist might tell his or her patients to use sunscreen before going outside,” said Dr. Jeffrey Stovall, Jr., optometrist with Focus Eye Care. Stovall recommends blue light protection for his patients who spend more than three or four hours a day on the computer or other devices.
What and where is the blue light?
Scientists tell us that what we perceive as white light actually has a large blue component. That can expose eyes to higher amounts of energy from the shorter wavelengths – at the spectrum’s blue end, as opposed to the longer wavelengths at the red end.
The largest source of blue light is sunlight, and the sun’s ultra violet rays can, and will, cause eye damage with overexposure. But recent warnings seem to focus on the long-term effects of video screen exposure because of the close proximity of the bright screens and the length of time people spend looking at them.
In today’s high-tech world, blue light comes from a variety of sources, such as:
- Fluorescent light, as well as compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs,
- LED light and flat-screen LED televisions, and
- Computer monitors, smart phones and tablet screens.
What’s damaging and what’s not?
“Over the course of decades, we’re still not sure how much damage can be done by constant blue light exposure,” said Stovall.
Some scary headlines, which made the public worry, followed a Scientific Reports’ study and related news articles about blue light research in 2018.
“Blue light from electronic screens,” however, “is not making you blind,” the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) said in a 2018 online post.
“Not so fast,” said another report,seeing that the published research and Scientific Reports’ study took place in a laboratory. In fact, the study’s lead author Ajith Karunarathne, PhD, said “Absolutely not,” when asked “if electronic screens” cause blindness, according to one reporter.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) said the study “lends support for the importance of wearing UV-A and UV-B sunglasses when outside in sunshine.” And the AAO continues to remind us: “Long-term overexposure to UV radiation over the course of one’s life can cause more serious problems.”
For some, the verdict is still out on blue light emitted from digital screens, although the AOA and AAO both recommend avoiding bright screens up to 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. And suggest dim or reddish (warmer) lighting at night.
Lighting is more about affecting our circadian rhythm [our sleep/wake cycle], says the AOA.
Don’t strain yourself
Blue light isn’t the only threat to vision linked to more screen time. Computer monitors, smartphones and tablet screens also may cause eyestrain, which is a different problem than too much blue light. Eyestrain is when “eyes get tired from intense use, such as while driving long distances or staring at computer screens and other digital devices,” states Mayo Clinic’s website.
“Try using the 20-20-20 rule,” said President and CEO of Prevent Blindness Georgia, Jill Shapiro Thornton. “Every 20 minutes take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away.”
Thornton also encourages speaking with your eye doctor to find other ways to prevent digital eyestrain. The good news is eyestrain is not serious – although it can be annoying – and generally goes away once you rest your eyes, say Mayo Clinic’s eye experts.
Comprehensive eye exams
One thing that health experts can agree on is the importance of eye exams for everyone, especially seniors. Neglecting eye appointments can lead to reduced eyesight or blindness.
A recent University of Michigan survey found that 18 percent of older people haven’t seen an optometrist or ophthalmologist in three years or more, according to AARP. And some who were surveyed “were not sure” when they had their last eye exam.
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health, “vision loss is not an inevitable part of aging.”
Ophthalmologists and optometrists agree that when eye diseases are detected and treated early, vision loss can often be prevented. Eye problems can sneak up on older adults who are not receiving regular checkups.
Seniors may not realize:
- Eye diseases often have no early symptoms.
- Everyone aged 50 and older should have a regular comprehensive dilated eye examination.
- Early detection, treatment and follow-up care are important to preventing vision loss and blindness.
The leading causes of blindness and low vision in the United States are primarily age-related eye diseases such as macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
Check your calendar and note the date of your last eye exam. Take time to discuss blue light with your optometrist or ophthalmologist.
Eye exam recommendations
Prevent Blindness Georgia recommendations for scheduled eye exams include:
- Ages 20 to 39 years (African Americans) – every 2 to 4 years
- Ages 20 to 39 years (Caucasian) – every 3 to 5 years
- Ages 40 to 64 years – every 2 to 4 years
- Ages 65 years or older – every 1 to 2 years
People with special risks – diabetes, a previous eye trauma, surgery or a family history of glaucoma – may need more frequent eye exams.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with diabetes have a comprehensive eye exam every year and those with a high risk of glaucoma, every two years. Of course, people with symptoms of eye trouble should see an eye doctor right away!
Work with a computer? Here’s some advice.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests the following tips for people who work with computers all day.
- Sit about 25 inches (arm’s length) from the computer screen. Position the screen so you are gazing slightly downward.
- Reduce screen glare by using a matte screen filter if needed.
- Purchase some blue light filter glasses that will help reduce eyestrain.
- Take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- When your eyes feel dry, there are a number of natural remedies for dry eyes you can use to refresh them.
- Adjust your room lighting and try increasing the contrast on your screen to reduce eyestrain.
- If you wear contact lenses, give your eyes a break by wearing your glasses.
Eye care help
Don’t let cost keep you from keeping your eyes in check. Several organizations offer low-cost or no-cost eye exams for qualifying adults, such as: