Carolina Vision Associates, O.D., P.A. Real Tips from Your Wilmington, North Carolina Eye Doctor
Everywhere you look, there’s an article or blog telling you all about hazardous blue light. However, after years of experience as an optometrist in Wilmington, I’d like to point out that blue light isn’t the root of all evil. Your computer, phone, tablet, and every digital screen you own pose additional dangers to your vision and your sleep – beyond the dangers of blue light.
Is Blue Light the Big and Bad Enemy?
Blue light is a short, high-energy wavelength emitted in large amounts by all electronic devices. It can pass through the eye to the retina, and laboratory studies have shown how prolonged exposure to blue light damages the retinal cells in mice. That’s one fundamental reason behind the plentiful warnings to avoid blue light. However, the results of studies on real people (not rodents) didn’t attribute blue light with the same level of risk; other risk factors can be just as threatening to human vision.
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Although it’s true that digital tech emits a huge quantity of blue light, you may not know that the sun also shines mainly with blue light. In fact, on a sunny day, the light coming at you is nearly 100,000 brighter than your computer screen. Yet, few scientific studies on humans have uncovered any connection between sunlight exposure and the development of a retinal disease, such as age-related macular degeneration.
Then how did the studies show that blue light damages mice eyes? Because mice and people don’t have the same eyes. Humans have built-in protective elements – macular pigments and the natural filter of our crystalline lens - that protect against blue light. These parts of your eyes absorb the blue light before it reaches the retina at the back of your eye.
Of course, that doesn’t mean sunglasses are unnecessary. By blocking all UVA and UVB rays from your eyes, sunglasses provide many more benefits than just blocking blue light. For example, research has shown that sunglasses slow down the development of other eye diseases, such as cataracts.
Digital Devices Are Still Dangerous
Even though blue light may not be the ultimate threat posed by electronic gadgets, that doesn’t mean blue light has zero negative effects on your eyes or that your digital screens are harmless. Blue light has a powerful, adverse effect on your sleep physiology. That’s because you have photosensitive retinal ganglion cells that convey the time of day to your brain, based on how light it is in the environment. These ganglion cells, which are hypersensitive to blue light, help to set your internal clock to keep you awake and alert during the day. Therefore, when you stare at a digital screen and its blue light, your ganglion cells tell your brain it’s still daylight – even at 2 am.
What if you put a blue-light blocking filter on your tablet whenever you use it in bed? Sorry, no dice. Your retinal cells are also sensitive to light waves other than blue, so filtering out blue light won’t improve your sleep. Really, you need to dim all the colors, all the different wavelengths of light.
How to Relieve Tired Eyes and Promote Sleep
When my Wilmington eye clinic patients complain that their eyes are tired and they can’t sleep after looking at a screen from dawn through bedtime, I advise them to dim all screens starting from the evening hours. Bright light before bed (even from your phone screen) makes it harder to fall asleep. Even better, accept the challenge of making your bedroom a screen-free zone.
If you suffer from eye strain, it’s a good idea to call your Wilmington eye doctor and schedule an eye exam. It’s possible that you need a new vision prescription for glasses or contact lenses.
Last, but not least, keep your eyes lubricated! One of the best ways to do that is to blink frequently enough. When you stare at a screen, you’re probably blinking at a slower rate than normal. Consequently, your tear film evaporates and doesn’t get replenished until you walk away from your computer and begin to blink regularly again. In addition to blinking, using preservative-free artificial tears eye drops before you sit down at the computer can help boost your natural tears and keep your eye surface better lubricated.
For more tips on how to keep screens from causing uncomfortable symptoms or damaging your sight, visit your friendly Wilmington optometrist – I’m always happy to share helpful advice!
Carolina Vision Associates, O.D., P.A., your Wilmington eye doctor for eye exams and eye care
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