Blue Light From Phones Speeds Up Blindness, Study Claims

A close-up of a woman's eyes and nose with a blue tint

"Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye".

A new study from the University of Toledo has revealed how blue light from smart devices and screens is damaging our eyes.

Caused by the death of light-sensitive cells in the retina, while it doesn't result in total blindness the condition can make things like reading and recognising faces hard.

The researchers focused on a form of Vitamin A called retinal, which photoreceptor cells use to covert light into signals that get sent to the brain. However, digital devices, such as computers, televisions, and smartphones, also emit blue light, and we spend an very bad lot of time staring directly at those screens from a close distance.

Research by the University of Toledo in the USA has revealed that prolonged exposure to blue light triggers poisonous molecules to be generated in the eye's light-sensitive cells that can cause macular degeneration - an incurable condition that affects the middle part of vision.

'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'.

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They found that exposing the eye to blue light causes a reaction which leads an essential light-sensitive protein in the retina, known as retinal, to generate poisonous molecules in photoreceptor cells, resulting in their death. "When they're dead, they're dead for good", said Ratnayak. When combined with neurons and cancer cells, retinal that had been exposed to blue light killed them all - suggesting it could do the same to those found in the human eye. "The retinal-generated toxicity by blue light is universal". However, the discovery of the degenerative process resulting from the combination of retinal and blue light may show that the degeneration is sped up for those that use screens regularly. "No activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light", Karunarathne said. Instead, he said, it's just blue light, which "can kill any cell type". "It can kill any cell type".

The researchers did find a molecule called alpha-tocopherol that can stop the cells from dying, but the natural antioxidant fails to protect older users who are more susceptible to macular degeneration. But as we age, or our immune system takes a hit, we lose the ability to fight against the toxic retinal attack - and that's when the damage occurs.

"If you look at the amount of light coming out of your cell phone, it's not great but it seems tolerable", says John Payton, who also worked on the study. "Some cell phone companies are adding blue-light filters to the screens, and I think that is a good idea".

Dr. Karunarathne urged anyone concerned to wear sunglasses that filter UV and blue light and to avoid browsing on digital devices in the dark.

"Every year more than two million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States", Karunarathne said.

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