Reducing smartphone use to protect eye health

In an evermore digitised world, we’re spending more time than ever using our smartphones, tablets, and other digital devices to make our daily lives easier (or even possible).

Yes, this has unlocked whole new horizons of convenience and communication, but at what cost to health? The blue light emitted by smartphones poses a very real threat to eye health in particular. Add to that light emitted from artificial lighting and computer screens, and we can see a case emerging to reduce how long patients use their devices.

How can you convince patients to put their eye health first? Education and awareness are key, so let’s explore the full picture and the steps you can take as an eye health professional.

Why is blue light harmful?

In 2010, 60% of people owned a smartphone. By the end of this year (2017) this number will be 80%, so we are nearing market saturation. Researchers expect that by 2020, 90% of our exposure to blue light will be from artificial sources (smartphones, televisions and artificial lighting) without any protection.

Sunlight naturally contains around 25-30% blue light, which our eyes can cope with because we aren’t exposed to it in such quantities as we are with artificial blue light. By comparison, light from LEDs contains around 35%. This type of light is found in TVs, monitors and mobile devices of all types.

As a society, we interact with this type of light in quantities which simply weren’t conceivable before the rise of the smartphone. We’re taking in evermore high-energy light, thus risking more damage to the retina, and we’re living for longer, giving us more time in which to develop vision problems.

What’s more, this increased intake of light hasn’t been matched by, for example, dietary changes which might give the macula a helping hand. This all increases the risk of developing AMD, one of the leading causes of global blindness.

Protecting eyes from blue light

Forewarned is forearmed, and the good news is that there are steps you can take to minimise the impact of blue light exposure on your eyes.

Use smartphones less. This sounds simple, but, in reality, requires a great deal of willpower. Smartphones are inherently addictive but you can encourage patients to develop certain beneficial habits. Ask them to first limit their usage in the evenings, as there is evidence to suggest blue light interferes with sleeping patterns. Long hours using a screen can also contribute to digital eye strain, so giving eyes a break in the evening can be beneficial.

Change to night mode. If using devices less isn’t an option, patients can minimise the impact of a bright screen. This won’t reduce the screen’s blue light emissions, but it can reduce risk of digital eye strain. Android and iOS have night settings that emit a warmer light for night time use.

Think about supplements. It’s possible that dietary supplements could give the macula the boost it needs to power through today’s increased blue light intake. The macular pigment, whose density dictates how much harmful light the macula can block, is affected by the body’s intake of the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Supplements containing these two ingredients can protect eye health.

Get app-happy. Similar to the idea of simply turning the light on your screen down, there are apps available which work in a similar way, based on the time of day. One example is f.lux for laptop and desktop PCs, and similar third-party apps exist for Android devices.

Encourage regular eye checks. As an eye health professional, you should encourage your patients to see you regularly for eye checks. This is the best way to monitor eye health and pick up early signs of damage from blue light or other factors. Those over the age of 50 should be a priority for awareness programmes as well as those with a family history of AMD. Read more about early AMD screening programmes in our free whitepaper.

Learn more, download our whitepaper

Today, we’ve explored a few of the issues surrounding the potential problems caused by the enormous penetration of smartphone use in society. The enormous penetration of smartphone use in society has brought many potential problems to the surface when it comes to eye health As time goes on, more research could emerge linking excessive blue light consumption to health risks, especially for young people. This will, in turn, hopefully, prompt calls for the industry to better regulate itself.

In the meantime, we’ve produced a detailed whitepaper containing more information on the science behind blue light, and what can be done to protect patients. Download the dangers of blue light: What is it and how can we protect against its threat?