By the end of 2017, 80% of the UK population will own a smartphone, up from 20% in 2010. As these technologies reach market saturation the blue light they emit poses a greater danger– increasing cases of digital eye strain and risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
Artificial lighting and screens emit damaging blue light which disrupts circadian rhythm, especially when used after dark. Alongside this, blue light causes oxidative stress in the retina, which can lead to AMD.
Age-related macular degeneration is currently a problem facing over 60s, as the name suggests, but macular degeneration could become a concern for younger people if blue light exposure continues at its current levels. Half of 18-24 year olds check their phones during the night, which exposes their eyes to vast amounts of blue light, at a time of day when the eyes shouldn’t be exposed to any at all. For previous generations, blue light exposure only came from the sun, but by 2020 90% of our exposure to light will be from artificial sources. This is problematic because we are exposed to blue light almost constantly – from the sun, from screens and from artificial lighting.
What can technology companies do to protect us against blue light?
The eye health community are well aware of the risks of blue light, but what about the technology industry? The manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions have brought these essential products to the market, but there’s been little concern about their effect on our eye health. Consumers are largely aware of the risks to eye health, and many technology companies are too.
Currently, there is little or no regulation to control the amount of blue light devices can emit, so there is a need for self-regulation. Some companies are doing this, although very slowly.
Recently Apple and Android have invested in features that change the hue of the screen, which can supposedly reduce eye strain after dark. Early research shows that they can protect the eyes to an extent, but the best course of action is to markedly reduce usage, particularly after dark.
App developers have also attempted to make software that can reduce screen glare and adjust the hue of smartphone screens. The F.lux iOS app gradually changes the colour of your screen from blue to orange as the day goes on, which the makers claim will help with eye fatigue and improve sleep patterns.
Another study found that filters can protect against blue light, applying it to the device itself or wearing tinted glasses. It is good to see that this can help, but the likelihood of these being used by the majority of device users is slim.
As you can see the solutions are poor, with untested solutions coming from third parties – app developers or filter manufacturers. The technology industry isn’t making great strides to protect us against blue light yet. However, the acknowledgement from Apple and Google in changing the screen hue does give some hope that they may invest in research in the coming years.
Protecting yourself from blue light
Mitigating the damage from blue light lies with the individual, or the eye care professional for now. Patients should be encouraged to reduce their use of artificial lighting and screens where possible. Only then can their eyes be protected from damage, and the risk of age-related macular degeneration. We cover this in our recent whitepaper dedicated to blue light, download it for detailed recommendations for reducing blue light exposure.
For more information about protecting against blue light read our related blog post, or find out about screening for AMD risk.