Is your smartphone damaging your eye?

sleep-texting1_0For many of us, we spend our days on electronic devices, unknowingly exposing our eyes to light that can cause potential damage years from now. Our smartphones, tablets, and electronic devices emit light of all colors, but researchers are finding that there is a connection between blue light exposure and ocular damage.

For over a decade, the eyecare industry has been working hard to determine the connection. Laboratory studies are finding that after exposure to hours of blue light, the light sensing cells of the retina and its underlying layer begin to show damage, similar to that found in an eye disease called macular degeneration, a leading cause of blindness in the United States.

With these findings, what does this mean for all of us who are on electronic devices all day long? Are we exposing our eyes to harmful light that can cause us to lose our vision? It’s possible and very probable. Until a clinical study on patients shows a definitive correlation between blue light and vision loss, the general public may not be made aware of this potential. That doesn’t mean that you should ignore this finding.

If you or your children are using electronic devices, then you are exposing your eyes to blue light. And this type of chronic and cumulative exposure over decades will almost certainly cause ocular damage in the future. In light of these findings, the eyecare industry has recently made available lenses that block out blue light without distorting color. In the past, blue-blocking lenses tended to have a yellow tint. Manufacturers have now created a clear blue-blocking filter combined with anti-glare coating and ultraviolet protection.

Anybody who purchases glasses these days should already know to add an anti-glare coating with ultraviolet protection on the lenses. The anti-glare coating will improve vision and reduce glare from light sources, while the ultraviolet coating will protect eyes from harmful sunlight. Now, patients should choose an anti-glare coating that comes with ultraviolet protection and blue-blocking filter.

Not all blue light is harmful though. Some blue light helps with regulating your sleep/wake cycle and can affect memory, alertness and mood. Therefore, blue-blocking filters selectively filters out harmful blue light while allowing transmittance of beneficial blue light.

I don’t think any of us will be putting away our tablets to start reading from paper again. And until we know more about blue light, studies are showing it’s not all good. So be sure to protect your eyes and the eyes of children by asking your optometrist for a blue-blocking filter. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

~ Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association