Blue light from digital devices causes eye strain and increased risk of macular degeneration
09/12/2018 // RJ Jhonson // Views

A lot has been said about the dangers of mobile devices, but did you know that just looking at them can cause health problems? Studies indicate that staring at the screen of digital devices, be it your laptop, desktop computer, or smartphone, could increase your risk for macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.

Digital screens emit what is called blue light. In order for you to grasp how it damages the eyes, you have to understand the nature of light itself. Visible light, also called white light, is actually composed of all the colors in the spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is red and on the other is violet – a visible representation of this is the rainbow.

The closer the colors are to red, the longer their wavelengths are and the less energy they have. On the other hand, the colors closer to violet have shorter wavelengths but more energy. Blue light covers about a third of the visible spectrum, the part that includes everything from the colors blue to violet. Because of this, it is also known as blue-violet light.

Blue light is comparable but weaker than ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the invisible rays beyond violet light. UV has so much energy that it has a direct effect on your body. Get enough of it and you'll get a tan. Have too much of it and you'll get a sunburn or worse – skin cancer. Exposing the eyes to UV light is known to increase your risk for cataracts.

Digital screens emit small doses of blue light, but constant exposure to it (via you staring at your digital device for extended periods) cause eye strain and eventual damage to the tissues in your eyes. This damage has been compared to the effects of macular degeneration. It's not a surprise, therefore, that blue light is linked to higher risks of developing the condition.

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects more than 10 million Americans – more than the sufferers of glaucoma and cataracts combined – making it the leading cause of blindness in the country. It has no known cure.

Macular degeneration occurs when the macula begins to deteriorate. The macula is the center of the retina, the back of the eye where images are focused and sent to the optic nerve so they can be interpreted by the brain. Without a properly functioning macula and retina, it is impossible for you to see properly, if at all.

Part of what makes macular degeneration so worrisome is that it does not manifest symptoms as soon as it begins. Blurred vision, one of its first symptoms, means the disease has already progressed. Over time, it causes you to lose your central vision. In some advanced cases, people do retain their peripheral vision but are considered legally blind.

What can you do to prevent macular degeneration?

There are a number of steps you can take to lower your risk of macular degeneration, especially one that results from exposure to blue light. Here are some of them:

  • Limit exposure – The simplest way to protect your eyes is to not use your digital devices for extended periods of time. Give your eyes enough time to rest after staring at your smartphone or computer. If you tend to use your devices to while away time, you may opt for another hobby instead, one that does not put as much strain on your eyes.
  • Filter out light – You can limit your eyes' exposure to blue light by wearing glasses with special lenses meant to reduce blue light. You may also equip your devices with screen protectors that come with blue light filters.
  • Take a break – If you have no choice but to spend a long time in front of a digital screen, such as if you are pulling an all-nighter for your job, then you can give your eyes the occasional break using the “20/20/20” method. Every 20 minutes, look up from the screen and stare at a point 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
  • Eat healthily – You can protect your eyes from the inside by consuming the right foods. Eating fruits and vegetables will give you plenty of antioxidants that will help protect your cells from free radicals and damage. Nuts, seeds, and fatty fish will give you omega-3 fatty acids, which are also important to healthy eyes. Finally, make sure to eat foods, such as green and leafy vegetables, that are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. These plant pigments have antioxidant properties and are responsible for protecting the retina from damage from the sun and UV radiation. (Related: Saffron cures macular degeneration.)

Understand the importance of specific nutrients to eye health at

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