Could blue light be damaging your eyes?

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Health Advisor
@AVogelUK
Ask Felicity


06 September 2018

What is blue light?

When I refer to blue light, what I’m really referring to is a specific component of sunlight, which itself is made up of a spectrum of different light waves. These light waves can come in a variety of colours, from red to yellow to violet and some of them may even be invisible to the naked eye, such as infrared lights or ultraviolet lights. They all produce different effects, usually based on the amount of energy they possess.

For example, certain rays such as red light waves have longer wavelengths which mean they are less energetic than lightwaves with shorter wavelengths. Blue light has a very short wave length so it exudes a lot more energy. In fact, your body reacts to blue light in a similar way to sunlight which means that exposure to blue light can produce a physical response. The best example of this would be your sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Sunlight plays a very important role in your circadian rhythm – when your eyes detect sunlight, your optic nerves will relay a message to your hypothalamus, the part of your brain responsible for overseeing your sleep cycles. Your hypothalamus will then trigger the release of cortisol, a steroid hormone, to help you feel more energised and awake. However, since blue light behaves so similarly to sunlight, exposure to this type of light will also stimulate a very similar reaction. 

You can read more about the relationship between blue light and sleep in Marianna’s blog, ‘The colour of insomnia’ but for now, let’s focus more specifically on how blue light affects your eyes!

How does blue light affect your eyes?

The main issue with blue light is that it’s so pervasive. In the last two decades, the advent of new technology has greatly increased how often your eyes are exposed to blue light. You see blue light is a pivotal colour in the RGB colour model, a combination of red, green and blue light that is used to form all the colours you see on your computer, television and smartphone screens.

This means that every time you tune into TV, send an email, or receive a text message, you are exposing your eyes to blue light and this can present a real problem. While your eyes might be experts at blocking out harmful UV sunrays, they’re not so well equipped when it comes to blue light and as a consequence, almost all blue light directly reaches your retina. 

Since you encounter blue light on a daily, if not hourly basis, this level of exposure can have some serious consequences for your eye health. Let’s start with the most obvious – I’m sure you’ve all been told not to sit too close to a TV screen as a child and for good reason. Problems such as eye strain and Computer Vision Syndrome can easily occur, usually because you blink less whilst working with a screen. It can be extremely uncomfortable and can sometimes contribute to the overall deterioration of your vision if it’s recurring over a long period of time.  

Studies have even identified that blue light could be a major cause of macular degeneration. It’s suspected that blue light may cause your retinal molecules to start killing photoreceptor cells and, once these die, there’s no bringing them back so the impact on your vision could be irreversible.1 Even more alarming than this though, is the potential harm that blue light might do to children’s eyesight.

Is blue light worse for children?

A recent NEI-funded study revealed that children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital screens.2 This is worrying, especially when you consider that children raised today, are exposed to much more blue light than previous generations. It’s estimated that around 72% of children aged 8 and under had used tablets or smartphones, and this was five years ago back in 2013.

We can only assume that this number is rising and this means that more children may suffer from symptoms such as dry eyes, blurred vision and tension headaches. It’s also important to revisit the idea that blue light can affect your sleep – if children don’t get the right quality of sleep, it can affect a number of different areas, from your child’s mood and behaviour to the secretion of the human growth hormone while they sleep!

What can you do to protect your eyes from blue light?

The good news is that, while blue light can be quite damaging for your eyes, exposure is key. Watching television in the morning or spending a few hours on your computer isn’t immediately going to result in vision-related problems, what matters is how you treat these devices in the long-term. That’s why I’ve decided to outline some of my top tips to help you keep your eyes protected from blue light.

1 – Don’t use fluorescent light bulbs

So far when I’ve been speaking about blue lightwaves, it’s mostly been in connection with technological devices such as laptops and smartphones. However, what you use to illuminate your home can also be a vessel for blue light and fluorescent lights are by far the worst culprits. Studies have even found that exposure to bright fluorescent lights can increase eye diseases so it really might be for the best to consider an alternative.4

Ideally you should be trying to get bulbs that provide a warmer form of light. Incandescent light bulbs or certain types of LED light bulbs can be useful here, though if you really want to eliminate the risk of blue light, you could turn to light bulbs that utilise a different coloured light wave, such as red lightwaves. These types of bulbs should be simple to get a hold of and are far kinder for both your eyes and your sleep patterns than traditional bulbs.

2 – Use a filter app

If devices such as tablets and laptops are the main culprits, then surely the obvious solution must be to cut back your time using these items? Well, yes, but trying to implement that idea might be difficult, especially since so many of us are required to spend eight hours in front of a computer screen as part of our jobs. Therefore, if you can’t limit the amount of time you’re spending in front of a computer, the next best thing might be to at least make it safer.

Thankfully, many mobile phones are now offering a special night shift app which shifts the colours used in your display to the warmer end of the light spectrum. This helps to reduce some of the impact of blue light, making it easier on your eyes and most conducive for a healthy circadian rhythm. 

3 – Avoid using your devices in the dark

If you’re prone to sitting up at night scrolling through Facebook or YouTube, then I have some bad news for you. It turns out that using electronic devices in the dark can result in problems like eye strain, as then your eyes are more likely to focus in on the brightest light source available. This then places more pressure on your eye sight, resulting in typical symptoms such as blurred vision, migraines and irritation.

4 – 20-20-20 eye exercises

Sticking to the 20-20-20 rule can be a great way of supporting your eyes, allowing your eye muscles to temporarily relax. The principles of this exercise are simple – every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This should help to lessen symptoms of eye strain and allow you to continue with the rest of your working day unimpeded. Best of all, this method is proven to work according to studies published by the Nepalese Journal of Ophthamology.

5- Support your eyes

Your eyes, like any area of your body, need the right balance of nutrients to thrive. That’s why it’s extremely important to support your eye health by making sure you’re including plenty of vision-boosting vitamins and minerals in your diet. You can read a little bit more foods for your eyes here, but for now antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C  and essential minerals like zinc should be top of mind alongside fatty acids like omega-3.

If you want to go that extra mile, you could try turning to a nourishing supplement such as our Vision Complex. Not only does this contain plenty of zinc, it also includes beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, as well as antioxidants like lutein and meso zeaxanthin – you can read more about the benefits of these in my blog, ‘Trust me, I’m Vision Complex.’ This product is completely safe for children over the age of 12 and is suitable for vegans and vegetarians!

6 – Get regular check ups 

There’s one thing you really must do if you want healthy eyes and that’s get regular check-ups. The longer you go without seeing your optometrist, the more chance you have of finding out your eye health is deteriorating when you do finally visit. This of course, is doubly important if you already wear glasses or suffer from a long-standing eye issue. 

1https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-28254-8

2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21600300?report=abstract

3“More Than 33 Percent of Kids Under Two Use Tablets So Prepare for an Army of Robot Babies,” by Noah Rayman, Time, Oct. 28, 2013 http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/10/28/more-than-33-percent-of-kids-under-two-are-using-tablets-so-prepare-for-an-army-of-robot-babies/

4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222423/

5https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/20-20-20-rule#research

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