The time we spend with digital devices in our daily lives has increased dramatically over the past decade. Computers, tablet PCs, smartphones, and television have become an integral part of most peoples’ routines. More than 34% of people in the United States spend 4 to 6 hours a day with digital devices and 14% spend between 10 and 12 hours a day*. iPad apps even exist for infants, which are designed to enhance their development of certain motor and visual skills.
There has historically been a concern that doing "near work" might increase the chances of needing glasses later in life (although this has not yet been scientifically proven). Yet, perhaps of greater concern are the small amounts of light radiation that these newer electronic screens emit and the potential damage that could result to the eye.
Doctors, and most of the general public, have understood for years that Ultraviolet, or UV, light causes damage to the skin and eyes. What most people do not realize is that some blue light, also known as high energy visible light, is very close in wavelength to UV light. Similarly, large amounts of blue light may also cause damage, eyestrain, and fatigue to the eyes. Recent research from the Schepens Eye Research Institute suggests that higher levels of blue light may increase the risk of developing macular degeneration**. Blue light itself is present in natural daylight and helps us to stay awake, but as the quality of LCD and LED screens improve, they are emitting more and more blue light.
So, what can be done?
I do not foresee us giving up our laptops or smartphones anytime soon. If anything, our lives will likely become more dependent upon these devices. Many ophthalmic lens manufacturers have recognized the risks, and a variety of lens coatings are already on the market. My office offers choices from Hoya, including their Recharge coating, which has both blue light filtering and anti-reflective properties.
Ideally, electronics manufacturers could also develop the technology to add these blue light-blocking coatings to the device screens themselves, thus reducing emittance of the damaging light rays in the first place. I have had discussions with contact lens manufacturers about adding coatings to contact lenses and have been told that this is an area of ongoing research. I currently prescribe contact lenses with UV protection whenever possible.
Please feel free to contact me, or inquire with your eye care professional, for more information on these protective technologies.
*2012 VisionWatch Findings: A survey among 10,000 adults across America about their use of digital media and symptoms of vision stress, conducted by The Vision Council