Staring at a digital screen all day can take a toll on your eyes. Regular computer users have long complained of headaches, fatigue, and dry eyes due to strain.
But many would like to know how high are the stakes really? Could phone and computer screens also be damaging your eyes?
New research suggests it can.
Recently, scientists from the University of Toledo studied how blue light may react to the eyes in a lab setting.
What they found did not leave the scientists reassured. You see, people are exposed to blue light in two ways—the sun and digital screens.
You probably know that staring at the sun’s intense light can cause damage. Experts have known about that effect for decades.
But digital screens are much smaller than the sun, and many experts have raised questions about whether its blue light can cause the same damage.
Here’s What the Research Shows
To find out, researchers exposed cells directly to blue light during their study.
What they found was an interesting reaction between the light and retinal, a substance found especially in the retina of the human eye.
Retinal interacts with other cells in the eye and influences vision.
Study author Ajith Karunarathne compared retinal to a gas that powers its vehicle—photoreceptor cells, reports Popular Science.
When retinal was exposed to blue light in the study, the light excited molecules in a way other light sources did not.
According to Science Alert, the retinal then changed shape as it commonly does to react to light. But this time, the change turned toxic for photoreceptor cells.
Unfortunately, this led to damaging the photoreceptors, cells which don’t regenerate once they’re gone.
Although Karunarathne’s study utilized cells in a lab, the results should leave scientists ready to learn more.
If cells can react that way in a lab setting, researchers need to learn whether that reaction happens in real life. Only then can people find effective ways to protect themselves.
The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports in July.
Blue Light Could Cause Permanent Blindness
Losing photoreceptor cells is the most concerning problem with the study’s findings.
According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, macular degeneration affects as many as 10 million Americans.
It’s one of the leading vision problems in the United States, and scientists know little about why this condition occurs.
Here’s what happens with macular degeneration:
Due to age, smoking, genetic, or unknown factors, the retina of the eye begins deteriorating. A person may notice a wave or blurriness to his central vision.
That’s because the center of the retina, called the macula, is not able to distinguish clear images and send them to the brain.
As macular degeneration worsens, a person loses more of his central vision. The condition will then often lead to blindness, although the patient will retain peripheral vision.
Again, experts don’t know all the factors involved with macular degeneration.
However, environmental factors could influence it, including artificial blue light. This study could trigger ongoing research into blue light as a cause.
What We Do Know About Blue Light
Experts differ on how harmful blue light really is. But we do know that staring at blue light for a long time isn’t healthy.
For one, the light (and digital screens often associated with it) can cause eye strain as mentioned above.
Second, researchers do understand that blue light disrupts people’s circadian rhythm.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, blue light boosts attention and mood in people, all good reactions during the daytime.
However, many people find themselves staring at a cell phone or TV screen well into the night. That fact means their minds are more alert when they do decide to sleep.
Harvard also mentions how blue light has shown to affect melatonin levels in preliminary studies.
Given that throwing off the sleep/wake cycle can increase blood sugar and decrease satiety after meals, experts agree that people need to keep their body clock in good rhythm.
Blue light does have harmful effects on a person’s body when exposed for long periods or at night. New findings even suggest it may cause permanent damage.
To combat these problems, people should find ways to limit artificial blue light and protect themselves whenever possible.