Staring at your smartphone or computer screen could speed up blindness, say the scientists behind a new study into the effects of the blue light emitted by electronic devices.
Researchers found that shining blue light on eye cells transforms vital molecules in the retina into cell killers. The damage is said to speed up age-related macular degeneration, one of the biggest causes of blindness worldwide.
“We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye’s cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it,” Ajith Karunarathne, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who helped write the study, said in a press release.
The idea that lengthy late-night scrolling sessions are harmful is nothing new. Prolonged periods of screen time can cause eyestrain, and the bright light can mess with out hormones by mimicking sunlight and preventing us from falling asleep. What is new, however, is the clear link to macular degeneration.
“It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina,” Karunarathne said. “Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop.”
Karunarathne suggested using special sunglasses that filter UV and blue light to try to combat the effects, but scientists are still unsure whether this works. Regardless, it seems unlikely that smartphone users would be willing to wear sunglasses in bed late at night. The best advice right now is to avoid or limit use when it’s dark.
“Every year, more than 2 million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States,” Karunarathne said, adding: “We hope to find a way to protect the vision of children growing up in a high-tech world.”
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