Serious Concerns about Blue Light from Screens

Researchers Say Extended Exposure Could Accelerate Blindness

In what could cause significant ramifications for hardware makers, app developers and wireless operators, new research claims that the blue light emitted from device screens could be much more dangerous than previously thought. The findings were reported in Scientific Reports, an open, online journal published by Nature Publishing.

The study, conducted by the University of Toledo, reveals that the glowing blue light that so many people glance at during the day is very detrimental to human eyesight. Blue light is also present in sunlight, but with the growing ubiquity of digital devices, our exposure to it has potentially become more pronounced and harmful.

The study contends that blue light emitted by devices including smartphones and tablets alter cells in the human eye, which could accelerate blindness. According to the research, blue light can trigger “toxic” reactions in retinal molecules, which sense light and send signals to the brain. These retinal molecules are used by photoreceptors, which allow the eye to see. Blue light could produce poisonous chemical reactions that can kill the photoreceptors. And once they’re dead, they don’t regenerate, which is what makes this study so alarming. This can then lead to macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that can cause blindness starting around the age of 50.

In addition to causing macular degeneration, blue light can also interfere with sleep cycles. According to the US National Sleep Foundation, blue light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, a biologically produced chemical that regulates sleep cycles.

Several smartphone makers have started including a blue-light filter in their screens to reduce the potential damage. For example, Apple offers a Night Shift mode for all iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. The setting automatically changes the device’s colour spectrum to warmer tones in the evening, lessening the blue tint that feels especially harsh in a dark environment. Many Android phones, including the Google Pixel and Samsung Galaxy S8, have blue-light filters.

To protect from exposure to blue light, researchers advise people to wear sunglasses that filter both UV and blue light, and to avoid using smartphones or tablets in the dark. As people get older, it becomes more difficult for the body to fight eye disease. The researchers said they hope the findings lead to the development and implementation of preventative measures, such as eye drops, that can protect the retina.

This study from the University of Toledo is a reminder of how little we know about the ongoing and long-term physiological effects of being attached to a piece of electrical hardware almost every waking moment. It was only about a decade ago that smartphones starting becoming a completely common part of culture, and we’re entering unchartered waters.