Blue light emitted by digital devices may accelerate blindness (Photo Credit: By Japanexperterna.se from Japan [CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Natural blue light, which lies in the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye, has several health benefits. These include regulating the body’s circadian rhythm, boosting alertness, and increasing one’s overall feeling of wellbeing. However, the same cannot be said about artificial blue light which has permeated our households by way of digital devices such as televisions, smartphones, laptops, and gaming systems. Previous studies have shown that extended exposure causes eye strain, fatigue, headaches, and sleeplessness. Now, new research by the University of Toledo (UT) has found that the blue-tinted screens of our addictive gadgets may be accelerating macular degeneration – a condition that results in significant vision loss, eventually leading to blindness.

Macular degeneration, caused by the weakening of the eye’s photoreceptor cells, affects over 2 million Americans annually. Since the affliction mostly impacts people in their 50s and 60s, it has traditionally been believed to be brought on by age. However, experiments conducted by the Toledo research team led by assistant professor Dr. Ajith Karunarathne has revealed that excessive exposure to artificial blue light may also be a factor. The scientists found that blue light causes retinal molecules – the cells that detect light and initiate signaling to the brain – to trigger harmful particles. The toxic molecules kill the photoreceptors, which are responsible for absorbing and converting light into electrical signals and sending them to the brain for interpretation.

Image Credit: Bluelightexposed.com

“It’s toxic. If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signaling molecule on the membrane dissolves. Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.” said Kasun Ratnayake, a Ph.D. student researcher and co-author of the study.

The team found that the poison from the blue light-exposed retinal cells was toxic for other body cells as well – including heart cells, neurons, and even cancer cells. However, the light had no impact on the cells in the absence of the retinal cells. The researchers say this is because our eyes are unable to protect or reflect the high-energy blue light, the way they can with the longer wavelength red and green colors. Hence, the energetic blue wavelengths can easily penetrate our light-sensitive retina and cause irreversible damage.

High-energy blue light waves are able to penetrate into our light-sensitive retina and cause harm (Image Credit: bluelightexposed.com)

“It’s no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye’s retina. 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,” said Dr. Karunarathne. Meanwhile, the expert recommends protecting your eyes by wearing sunglasses that can filter both the sun’s UV and blue light and avoiding using smartphones, laptops, and other digital devices, at night.

The researchers next plan to conduct a study to determine the impact on the eyes from daily exposure to the blue light emitted by the digital devices. They hope it will enable them to find a way to intercept the toxic reaction caused by the combination of retinal and blue light and help protect the vision of children growing up in a technology-driven world.

Resources: Theguardian.com, Fortune.com, Zmescience.com



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