Smartphones Might Be Damaging Your Vision, So Bad News for...Basically Everyone

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You probably already know that the blue light most tablets, smartphones, and computer screens emit has a nasty tendency to disrupt your sleep — but here’s some even more sobering news for you: Blue light might actually be harming your vision, too. We get exposed to blue light naturally via the sun, so it’s not all bad — but a lot of concerns have kicked up in recent years about whether we’re getting overexposed to it, thanks to our dependence on electronic devices.

According to a current article on Gigaom, blue light might be doing more than just suppressing our melatonin levels. Exposure to too much of the stuff might be connected to the higher incidence of both macular degeneration and cataracts. Commenting on the Gigaom piece, Business Insider cites both a 2006 study that showed the damage blue light can cause to the retina, as well as a warning from the American Macular Degeneration Foundation that retinal damage caused by blue light might lead to the development of macular degeneration itself. BI does note that most of the studies demonstrating this effect involve holding the light incredibly close to the retina, which may not be representative of how most people use their phones; however, as optometrist Dr. William Harrison told Gigaom, “Here’s what doesn’t need research: 415 to 445nm is super hot light, and if it’s really focused and brought up close — when you’re talking about a tablet six inches away from a kid’s face — it’s got to be significant.” It requires more research, but the concern still stands.

And as for the cataracts issue? Here's where the concerns lie: An eye doctor Gigaom spoke to for their article noted that he’s starting to see 35-year-olds with eyes as cataract-ridden as those of 75-year-olds. As always, correlation is not causation, and we don’t know a whole lot about the issue yet; BI notes that it’s currently being researched, though, so although we can’t jump to any conclusions, hopefully we’ll have some solid data soon.

Not going to lie: I’m concerned. Like a lot of people whose jobs depend heavily on computers, I spend a lot of time staring at screens; I also have terrible vision (thanks, genetics), so I’m not exactly batting a thousand in the eyesight game to begin with. As such, even though the effect of blue light on both our vision specifically and our bodies in general requires more research, it can’t hurt to try to cut back on your exposure to blue light. Here are a few ways to do it:

  1. Don’t sleep with your phone near your bed. This will also prevent it from, y’know, catching on fire, because apparently that happens.
  2. Install f.lux or Twilight on your devices. I discovered f.lux while working on an article about sleep apps during Sleep Awareness Week in March. It works on a timer, dimming your screen to an amber color once the sun goes down and cutting down on your post-sunset blue light exposure. Why bother? Wearing amber glasses has been proven to filter out blue light, so the idea behind f.lux is that it gets the job done without the need for special glasses. I don’t own any Android devices, so I can’t speak to the efficacy of Twilight; it’s said to do pretty much the same thing, though, so give it a shot if you’re an Android user.
  3. Put the screens away before bed. This is one piece of advice I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to follow myself, as I A) use an e-reader and B) can’t fall asleep unless I read for an hour or two before bed. But if you’re at all able to do so, put anything with a screen away an hour or so before hitting the hay.
  4. Switch your light bulbs. The one thing incandescent bulbs had going for them was the fact that they didn’t emit as much blue light as modern light bulbs do. But there are some alternatives out there, like Lighting Science’s Good Night LED bulb, that also emit a minimal amount of blue light; they might be worth a shot.

Images: riaz kanani/Flickr, Giphy