A recent study conducted by Bank of America showed that nearly half of American consumers feel that they couldn’t survive without their smartphone for even one day. A troubling trend in society is developing where people turn on their cell phones from the moment they wake up, continue to use their cell phones on the way to work and then exchange the screens of their mobile devices for the screens of their work computers until the end of the work day when they revert back to their cell phones. Emails, social media and the need to stay connected has turned our lives towards whatever screen is nearest.
New research into excessive device use is raising concerns that the long term implications for our health are more wide spread than previously expected. According to The Vision Council, sixty percent of Americans spend more than five hours a day using electronic devices. Apart from eating away at our recreational time and decreasing face to face human interaction, this need to be constantly “plugged in” could also be damaging to our eyesight.
Optometrists are receiving growing complaints from patients concerned about digital eye strain - Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, dizziness and insomnia. Instances of these new types of eye problems are now so numerous that it even has a name - “computer vision syndrome”. Doctors are quick to clarify that these issues are ostensibly caused by blue light emitted from the screens of the cell phones and computers that we stare at throughout the day and night.
The big question is, is blue light really causing these issues, and if so, what can be done about it?
Love technology and embrace it but not at the cost of your health
Technology such as smart phones and computers has become an essential part of daily life. Our lives revolve around being connected to the internet, and this trend is only intensifying with the shift of our everyday appliances to be connected to the internet (The Internet of Things). But just as doctors always advise patients to keep their eyes away from the sun, doctors also recommend to take precautionary measures so as to protect our eyes from blue light emitted from digital devices.
Visible light ranges from longer wavelength colors (reds, yellows) to shorter wavelength (blue, purple) before moving into the invisible part of the spectrum (UV Light) which is fine in small doses but is dangerous if a person is exposed to it for extended periods. Blue light is found at the shorter end of the visible light spectrum which is more powerful and potentially more harmful, which makes it more similar to UV light than to the longer wavelength light.
Being exposed to UV light emitted from the sun in small doses is fine and can even give you a nice tan, so too can blue light in moderation be fine for the health of your eyes, but conversely, just as when exposed to UV light for long periods, the skin burns, so too there are detrimental effects to your eyes when you experience extended exposure to blue light.
There are positive side effects of blue light such as stimulation of endorphins that improve our mood, and regulation of our circadian rhythm, (or sleep cycle) which is important to our body functioning healthily. Yet our eyes are ill prepared to block blue light which can cause it to be harmful if we have prolonged exposure to it. The risk of harmful blue light is amplified for children, since blue light can penetrate more directly to the retina when their eyes are still developing, causing greater damage.
Protecting your eyes from blue light
If your eyes are subject to constant blue light from tablets, smartphones and computer screens, there are few ways in which you can protect your eyes:
- Blink more: The easiest way in which you can address digital eye strain is by blinking more. This may sound extremely simple but when you blink, your eyes remain lubricated and don’t get strained due to dryness. You can resolve digital eye strain by following the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, stare at something which is 20 feet away from you and keep staring for at least 20 seconds.
- Wear computer glasses: The eyewear industry has developed computer lenses that are treated with a special coating that blocks blue light from entering the eye, allowing the wearer to concentrate on LED screens for prolonged periods without straining their eyes. One retailer that has moved into the computer lens services is SmartBuyGlasses, who have recently launched a new function that allows customers to add computer lenses to their choice of designer glasses.
- Clean your screen: If your screen is covered with fingerprints, dirt and dust particles, this can intensify the blue light entering your eyes. Regularly cleaning your screen helps to mitigate this issue and making a habit out of cleaning your screen can make a big difference in the long term.
- Adjust your screen brightness: The intensity of the light coming from your computer, tablet or smartphone can be very harsh, especially when the brightness is set to the maximum level. Turn down the brightness of your screen to save both your eyes and your battery from taking on unnecessary strain. If you enjoy reading e-books before you go to sleep, either switch to night mode or alternatively use an app which is free and can reduce the brightness of your device.
- Screen time: Try and decrease the amount of time that you spend in front of the screens and make sure you take frequent breaks to give your eyes rest. That also means decreasing screen time right before you go to sleep so as not to throw off your circadian rhythm.
- Filters: Did you know that there are screen filters that you can attach to your smartphones, computer screens and tablets? They are a great option to help reduce the harmful effects of blue light.
By taking into account these recommendations and being mindful of blue lights’ potentially harmful effects, you will be able to properly safeguard your eyes and lead a healthier lifestyle.