Is Your Cell Phone Putting Your Vision at Risk?

By | August 27, 2018

As a reader of this website, you are probably well versed in the dangers associated with using cell phones. There is evidence that their radiation alters brain activity. Plus, phones—or any other device  with a screen like a laptop or tablet—affect the quality of your sleep when you use them close to bedtime. And now there is another worrisome problem to add to that list. New research suggests that cell-phone screen-light may do long-term damage to your eyes that could lead to blindness.

The study, which took place at the University of Toledo in Ohio, found that the blue light emitted from cell phones and other devices with screens may harm vision and contribute to macular degeneration. These results are based on laboratory experiments that were designed to explore cellular responses to light.

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The researchers focused on photoreceptors, which are specialized cells in the eyes that contain both a kind of protein that functions to detect light, and retinal, which binds to these proteins and is necessary for the photoreceptors to work properly. As the investigators exposed the cells to varying wavelengths of light, they discovered that prolonged exposure to blue light produced a change in the retinal cells that caused it to irreversibly distort and damage chemical reactions with the photoreceptors—and even destroy the photoreceptors in some cases. And photoreceptor cells don’t regenerate, so when they die off, you experience irreversible vision loss.

Now, it needs to be restated that this research was not conducted on actual people, and findings in a sterile lab setting can be very different from what actually takes place in our bodies. There may even be other factors at play within our eyes that would alter these effects to some extent. However, with that being said, there is a growing body of evidence that the blue light emitted from devices such as cell phones is damaging to our eyes, so it’s probably better to play it safe when using them.

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A 2016 study at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia showed that the blue light emitted by electronic screens can induce photoreceptor damage in the eyes and harm ocular health. It makes sense that blue light would potentially be more dangerous than other colors on the visible spectrum since it has a shorter wavelength and produces more energy.

The type of damage to the photosensitive cells found in the current research can precipitate macular degeneration, one of the most common causes of age-related vision loss. Macular degeneration takes place when the light-sensing cells of the macula, which is within the retina at the back of the eye, are damaged, causing blurry, distorted, or darkened vision, and eventually, in some cases, functional blindness.

So, what can we do to protect our eyes, short of getting rid of our cell phones, computers, tablets, and televisions? Cutting back on screen time will reduce your blue light exposure significantly; so, if you’re one of those people constantly checking your phone, try to break the habit. Keep it in another room (or at least across the room) and don’t run to it every time you hear the ping of a new notification.

Use your devices less at night, too, when the darkness causes a greater emission of blue light to make the screen more visible. If you are going to be looking at your phone after dark, switch to the “Night Mode” feature if your phone offers it. This is available on certain newer models of phones in order to reduce blue light to some extent. And as we noted earlier, it’s good to put your devices away well before bedtime anyway if you want to get a good night’s sleep.

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And, since we live in a high-tech world where some screen time every day is inevitable, adopting a healthy lifestyle can benefit your eyes as well. Eating foods rich in antioxidants such as spinach, blueberries, and melons can help prevent damage to your eyes and stave off serious problems like macular degeneration. And some studies have indicated that supplementation with lutein and zeaxanthin in particular might help prevent the onset of macular degeneration.