Do you spend a lot of time under artificial lights or even just staring at screens? It could be taking a toll on your eye health and vision. New studies have found a link between exposure to blue light and eye damage.
Artificial light is ubiquitous in the modern world. Not only do light bulbs and other artificial lighting sources illuminate indoor and outdoor spaces at all times of day and night, but many people are also exposed to light on computers, smartphones and other devices. This constant exposure to light is a form of pollution—light pollution—that has been found to cause serious health problems and disrupt circadian rhythms. New research on blue light and eye damage suggests that it may be bad for our vision as well.
The Difference Between Natural and Artificial Light
Humans and other living things evolved to live under an endless cycle of sunlight and darkness. Sunlight is mostly made up of white light, which contains all of the visible colors of the light spectrum. This is the reason that light beaming through a prism creates a rainbow. Artificial light, however, tends to be mainly from the blue wavelength of light. As mankind has begun to spend most of our lives indoors and an increasing amount of time in front of devices, we have increased our exposure to blue lights.
How does this change in light wavelength affect our health? According to numerous studies, the increase in exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin production, which in turn can lead to a wide variety of health problems. However, this blue light also may have a negative effect on our eyesight as well.
The Link Between Blue Light and Eye Damage
As we age, the cells in our eyes gradually become damaged and slowly deteriorate. This leads to an increase in sight problems such as macular degeneration, a disorder in which the cells of the retina that are responsible for vision lose their ability to see. Melanin, a pigment that gives our hair and skin color, protects retinal cells from some of this damage. However, we lose melanin as we age, leaving our eyes increasingly prone to damage from light. High energy blue light, the kind emitted by high-efficiency light bulbs and electronic devices, does the most damage to these delicate cells.
People who are exposed to high levels of blue light on a regular basis are more likely to suffer from a variety of vision problems. You have probably noticed that you suffer from eye strain after reading from a screen for an extended period of time. However, this is just the beginning. High exposure to blue light has also been found in several recent studies to increase the risk of macular degeneration, cataracts and other eye diseases. The effects are so great that optometrists now recommend eye protection from blue light as standard preventative eye care.
Protecting Your Vision From Blue Light
There are ways that we can protect our eyesight to support good vision over a long lifetime. Experts recommend wearing sunglasses and hats when we are in bright light, whether this is indoor or outdoor lighting. Limiting screen time is also an important way to protect your eyes. It is especially important to limit exposure to blue light in the hours before sleep so your body can begin to produce and release melatonin. Choose a paperback rather than a tablet or e-reader for your bedtime reading. Use traditional white light bulbs rather than energy efficient LED lighting in rooms where you spend your late evening hours.
It is possible to reduce exposure to high-energy blue light, but eliminating it altogether is not possible for many people. Many people work in environments where blue light in the form of lighting and screens is simply a fact of life. There are special eyeglasses that filter out blue light to reduce strain and damage, but it is also important to address the problem with good nutrition.
Supporting Good Vision From the Inside Out
Because melanin protects your eyes from some of the damaging effects of blue light, oxidative damage to melanin in your retinas is a huge risk factor for eye disease. Supplements that contain certain antioxidant nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to support good eye health by reducing oxidative damage to retinal cells. Taking a multivitamin is also important, as vitamin E and other nutrients act as potent antioxidants throughout our bodies.
Even if you avoid screens and electronic devices, it is difficult to eliminate exposure to blue light and eye damage that may result. Modern offices, stores and even schools are lit with bulbs emitting mainly this wavelength of light. However, common sense lifestyle changes along with supplements supporting good eye health will reduce vision damage for many people who cannot avoid exposure. While some eye damage is natural in aging, we should do everything we can to maintain good vision and whole body health throughout our lifetimes.