Nov 5, 2015

Blue Light: It's Everywhere - and It May Cause Blindness

Last week, I took my children to a routine eye exam. I was in for a shock. Not only did both my kids need glasses, but I learned something else that made me say, "How did I not know this? Why have I never heard of this before?" And I'm betting you don't know about it, either, even though it may put your family at risk for blindness.


The Danger

Our society is inundated with electronic devices, and more and more of us are using them for more and more hours of the day. As a parent, you may know that limiting your child's use of electronic devices is better for their social well being and brain health, but you may not realize that many modern conveniences are actually causing eye damage.

Televisions, computers, laptops, tablets, cell phones, fluorescent and compact fluorescent light bulbs, and LED light bulbs. What do they all have in common? They all emit something called blue light - the most intense form of light the human eye sees. Blue light is troublesome for at least two reasons. One is that it tells the brain to decrease melatonin in our bodies - a hormone that regulates our sleep. (And this, in turn, may cause depression and cancer.) The second is that it's linked to macular degeneration.
A scene as it might be viewed by someone with macular degeneration. Courtesy of the National Eye Institute.
What is Macular Degeneration?

According to the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss. This incurable disease causes blindness as the retina degenerates. In the past, macular degeneration was something seen almost exclusively in the elderly, but more and more doctors are seeing it in young people - including those in their 20s and 30s.

While the causes of macular degeneration aren't completely understood, increasingly, studies show that blue light damages retinal cells. And since children are spending more of their lives exposed to high levels of blue light, they are considered at highest risk for developing macular degeneration - perhaps at a young age.

What You Can Do
  • The best thing to do is avoid LED and fluorescent light bulbs and reduce screen time. Most experts seem to recommend only one hour of screen time a day for children. Others think that it's most important to limit tablet and cell phone use to that amount of time. 
  •  Use the "20/20/20 Rule." Screens that are held closer to the face (like tablets and cell phones) put us at higher risk of eye problems. When you do use tablets and cell phones, experts recommend that for every 20 minutes of use, take a 20 second break looking at something 20 feet away. This can be a difficult rule for children to follow, so I recommend giving your child a kitchen timer. Set it for 20 minutes, and make sure you give your child a specific thing to look at when he or she looks up. Have the child sing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" or count to 30 (for good measure) before they go back to staring at the screen.
  • Get regular eye exams. Experts recommend children get an exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist (not just a pediatrician) once a year. It's smart for adults to do this, too.

If you or your child already wears glasses, ask your optometrist about putting a filter on the lenses to reduces blue light exposure.

If you don't wear glasses, but have significant exposure to blue light, you might consider what my neighbor (who works for an ophthalmologist ) recommends: Getting eye glasses with no corrective power, but with blue light filters on the lenses. She believes in this so strongly, she had her niece (who uses a tablet in school) get some.



1 comment:

  1. I have been doing yearly eye exams for my kids since they each started kindergarten. To my surprise, I have 2 wearing glasses during reading and one that will need glasses "probably within the next year" for all-the-time wear. On school days when the kids ask afterwards for math games or something online, I always say no. I felt like it was too much screen time. Now I am glad for saying no! Oh, and our eye dr told my daughter who loves to read all the time the same rule about looking away from the book after 20 minutes.

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