If you think staring at your phone or flat-screen TV all day is harmless, think again.
Prolonged use of devices that emit blue and violet light, particularly without taking a break to focus on something else, can be harmful to the long-term health of your eyes, doctors say.
The light given off by these devices can contribute to eye fatigue, dry eyes and in some cases to the development of age-related macular degeneration.
“Some of the research and studies coming out show that there is an association — exposure to these devices that can actually hurt people long term,” said Dr. Judson Briggs, president of the Georgia Optometric Association.“Macular degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness in adults over 50. The macula is the very small spot on the back of the retina where light focuses. It’s very sensitive and it’s very critical.”
The high-energy light causes problems in the retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) cells, which can have an impact on the clear, crisp vision in the eye’s center. These cells are easily damaged.
Regular eye exams are essential to early detection of problems because they allow for the diagnosis of any changes in the health of the eyes. Dark spots, for instance, are an early indicator of macular degeneration, Briggs said.
In most cases, macular degeneration happens to people over the age of 75, but researchers are now finding it in younger people and believe high-energy light rays may be one of the culprits.
Many factors contribute to the development of macular degeneration, including age, heredity and lifestyle choices such as smoking.
“The exposure to this blue light — excessive exposure — can damage the cells on the macular,” Briggs said. “It’s a process that takes place over a long period of time.”
Sinly Sivongsay isn’t worried about cellphone and computer use damaging her eyes. She uses her phone frequently throughout the day at work but takes breaks and gets regular eye exams.
“I take lunch breaks and I’m up and down the hallways,” she said. “At night, I tend to grab my phone and scroll, but I’m not rubbing my eyes or feeling tired.”
Many of Briggs’ patients complain of dry eyes and eye fatigue. “You don’t get the windshield wiper effect,” said Briggs, who recommends over-the-counter tear supplements such as Systane and Refresh. Vitamin supplements containing lutein, which comes from leafy green vegetables, also help.
For some patients, BluTech lenses, eyeglass lenses that help to filter the light, may be the solution. These are $100 to $200 depending on the brand.
For most people, the 20-20-20 rule heads off most problems. It simply means taking a break every 20 minutes for 20 seconds to focus on something 20 feet away.
Said Briggs: “That allows the eye muscles to relax and recharge.”
PROTECT YOUR EYES FROM PROLONGED SCREEN TIME
Give your eyes a break. Follow the 20-20-20 rule to avoid eye strain — take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
Get an annual eye exam. If you want to know what’s going on with your vision, get a comprehensive eye exam. Early detection can help head off some problems.
Get enough sleep. Viewing devices late at night can disrupt your sleep cycle and contribute to eye strain. Turn off laptops and cellphones at least an hour before bed.
For more information, go to: www.GOAeyes.com, www.facebook.com/GOAeyesor follow @GOA_eyes on Twitter.
Sources: Dr. Judson Briggs, president of the Georgia Optometric Association, and Dr. Jeffrey Hackleman, an optometrist with Heritage Vision Center of Snellville.