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Blinded by the light: How blue light from phone screens may be accelerating blindness and what you can do about it




If you're regularly checking your phone at night in a dark room, you're probably tricking your body into thinking it's still daytime.
If you're regularly checking your phone at night in a dark room, you're probably tricking your body into thinking it's still daytime.
Artur Debat/Moment Editorial/Getty Images

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If you’ve ever woken up in the middle of the night, checked your phone and then found it hard to fall back asleep, you’ve experienced the way that blue light from a smartphone screen can impact your brain and sleep patterns.

But new research on the way our eyes process blue light suggests that overexposure could lead to vision damage and even accelerate blindness.

Researchers at the University of Toledo in Ohio examined the effects of prolonged exposure to blue light on living cells and found that it causes the retinal molecules in the eye to produce a “toxic” chemical reaction that can kill light-sensitive cells in the eye called photoreceptors and cause macular degeneration, a condition that impacts the middle part of one’s vision and is brought on when photoreceptor cells die.

Those cells, the researchers say, do not regenerate in the eye, so they are gone for good when they die. The researchers note that the study was performed in a lab culture and not on an actual human eye, and that testing on the actual human eye could produce different results.

So, how can you limit the amount of blue light you’re absorbing from your phone? Some phone models come equipped with a blue light filter or mode that can be turned on to limit blue light during certain hours of the day. You can also limit the amount of time you spend browsing on your phone or tablet in the dark.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll talk with one of the authors of the study on blue light about the findings and what they mean for how we use our cell phones, and talk to a tech expert about how blue light filters work and how phone manufacturers are responding to research on blue light’s impact on our sight and sleep patterns.

Guests:

Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Toledo (OH) and co-author of the study “Blue light excited retinal intercepts cellular signaling” (Scientific Reports, July 2018); he tweets @Cellphotochem

Jeremy Kaplan, editor-in-chief Digital Trends, an online publication covering the intersection of technology and lifestyle; he tweets @SmashDawg