Are Smart Gadgets Harming Your Vision?
If you’re like most Americans, you may find yourself spending hours each day glued to your smartphone or tablet. The number of smartphone users in the United States continues to skyrocket, more than doubling since just 2011 to reach an all-time high of 237 million in 2018.
Recent research has begun to uncover a potential consequence of our ubiquitous gadget use: Damage to our eyes from blue light. Ultraviolet rays from smartphones, tablets, flat-screen TVs, computers and other devices may contribute to vision problems like macular degeneration, experts say. What should you know about blue light, and what steps can you take to protect yourself?
The problem with blue light
Digital devices emit a low-wavelength form of energy known as blue light, which experts say can damage your eyes with long-term use. We get regular exposure to blue light from the sun, but smartphones and other digital gadgets are causing concern due to their near-constant use — and the closeness to many people’s eyes.
Blue light does have some potentially positive effects, such as boosting mood and increasing alertness. One recent study even found that limited, whole-body exposure to blue light may lower blood pressure and reduce arterial stiffness.
However, recent research has found that too much exposure can promote eye strain and damage to cells in the retina, which may increase risk for macular degeneration.
Steps for protecting yourself
Short of swearing off all your digital devices, what can you do to protect your vision from blue light? Consider the following tips to reduce your overall exposure:
- Add a filter. A variety of filters are now available for smartphones, tablets and other devices. You can find physical screen filters that you apply to your device, as well as apps that change the hue of emitted light; you can make the change permanent or schedule it for certain times of day.
- Take breaks. As you use your devices throughout the day, remember to take regular breaks that allow for time away from screens. Experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule, shorthand for taking a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
- Use computer glasses. Your doctor can recommend a variety of protective glasses — or a coating for glasses you already own — to reduce your exposure.
Stow your gadgets at night. As tempting as it may be to settle in with a good book on your smartphone, consider reading a paper version or using a dedicated e-reader device that does not emit blue light. In addition to potential vision damage, devices with blue light-emitting screens can affect melatonin levels and, as a result, the quality of your sleep.