What is blue light? Blue light is the highest energy light that is visible to the human eye. It is naturally present in sunlight and serves several important purposes for humans in natural amounts.
Biologically, blue light contributes to feelings of alertness and well-being and can even have an impact on one’s mood. The human anatomy is attuned to natural blue light, interpreting it as a signal to “Wake up. Be active and alert!” It helps cognitive function and helps with memory and plays a significant part in our daily well-being.
However, we have unwittingly introduced significant amounts of high-energy blue light into our environment through artificial means. Artificial blue light is generated by dozens of items that surround us daily: compact fluorescent lightbulbs, LED televisions and LED lightbulbs, and digital devices including computers, hand held tablet computers, I-Pads, e-readers, and smartphones. Over-exposure to blue light typically impacts in one of three ways.
Diminished visual performance, poor visual acuity, eye strain. Too much blue light can cause a slight distortion or haze in our visual perception, blurring images and inducing glare. Our eyes will continue to attempt to process the information inducing uncomfortable eyestrain and fatigue. This is a very common problem for office workers tied to a computer screen for hours at a time.
The retina, which is responsible for processing intensity of light and color, cannot regenerate or be replaced if damaged. Cumulative excessive exposure to high-energy light causes retinal cell death. In fact, researchers have induced macular degeneration in mice in as little as 24 hours by using excessive exposure to high-energy light. This has the potential to cause significant damage and may ultimately lead to premature age-related macular degeneration. The macula, a small spot near the center of the retina, is critical for sharp central vision and can be damaged gradually over time. AMD is a complex, multi-cause disease with many contributing factors including genetics and lifestyles choices like smoking or dietary habits. However, researchers have determined that exposure to specific wavelengths of light can significantly impact AMD’s development. (Paris Vision Institute, 2008) Patients at risk for AMD are extremely vulnerable to blue light.
Blue light is a natural powerful wakeup trigger and our bodies respond to its presence by suppressing melatonin production in the brain, affecting our sleep/wake cycle. Sleep disruption is a significant issue for millions of Americans, both adults and children. We are just beginning to understand the powerful effects inappropriate or untimely lighting may have on our well-being, but the facts are starting to pile up and high energy blue light is the subject of much of this focus. Poor sleep habits promote irritability and can significantly affect many areas of our physical health including fatigue, reduced work performance, mood disorders, high blood pressure, risk of stroke and diabetes. Studies show that exposure to blue light a couple of hours before bedtime can delay REM sleep significantly.
Nature provides humans with protection known as ocular lens pigment as a filtering substance within our eyes that we accumulate gradually through our lives until about the age of 60. However, we lack adequate protection to ward off the effects of the bombardment of the inappropriate unnatural and untimely blue light exposure of our modern technological society.
A number of solutions are available for blue light protection. Lens products are available to block, deflect, or filter blue light. These products can be easily added to prescription lenses for those who wear corrective eyeglasses. Many people who do not need correction are still over-exposed to potentially devastating HEV daily, especially our children and teens whose eyes are more susceptible to damage, and office workers. (Most people are completely unaware that the digital devices they purchase for their kids could have real, long-term health detriments.) These same lens products are available and recommended in non-prescription blue light protective eyewear for them!
Blue light is a real and prevalent concern. It is present in our modern environment in amounts never before experienced by humans. We have not yet reached the point where we can conclusively state what the final cost of this high-energy light exposure will be, but we are already measuring some of its immediate negative effects. Nearly 70% of Americans experience some form of digital eye strain.
Protect your eyes NOW. Talk to your eyecare provider about the best options for you.
Info supplied by Terri Antone, ABOC, AZLDO, at Antone Optical
Sources: The Vision Council, Vision Watch, Optometry and Vision Science, National Eye Institute, JAMA Ophthalmology, Michael Della Pesca ABOM, and Virginia Eye Institute