It is clear that more and more people are using digital devices, such as smart phones and tablet computers. While these devices can make it easier to work and communicate, not to mention have fun, there is a trade-off to all this convenience. Digital devices can affect eye health.
There has been an increase in the number of patients who come to optometrists and ophthalmologists with dry eye complaints. More often than not, patients with dry eye are heavy users of technology. Computer and digital device use can lead to decreased blinking, which in turn can lead to dry eye.
In addition, digital device use has been associated with myopia. Digital device use usually requires extensive near work. However, macular degeneration is even more damaging than myopia. While the number of cases of macular degeneration have gone up due to the increase in the number of persons who are aged 60 and older, there is a chance that exposure from high energy visible light (also known as blue light) may increase damage to macular pigments. This type of light is emitted from HD televisions and most digital devices. While the blue light exposure from these devices is less than the amount of blue light that the sun gives off, people are exposed to this type of light for longer periods at a closer range.
What makes blue light harmful is that it doesn’t just damage the structure of the retina, it can also decrease visual acuity. So, according to one optometrist, Thomas Aller, OD, FBCLA, a senior project scientist from the Vision Cooperative Research Centre, there needs to be a unified theory when it comes digital device use as it relates to dry eye, myopia, and macular degeneration. Dr. Aller feels that optometry has a great opportunity to improve eye health by learning how these three conditions are related.
Dr. Aller believes that practitioners can start with younger patients who have myopia. Eye doctors can work to slow the progression of myopia by improving the surface of the eye and protecting the retina. It doesn’t stop with eye doctors, however: “Researchers can help our understanding by broadening their lines of inquiry to include young patients in AMD and dry eye studies,” he said. “[They can] evaluate ocular surface disease and macular pigment density in myopia progression studies, and look for all these conditions when studying the ocular and visual consequences of digital device usage.”
We aren’t hopeless when it comes to blue light exposure. First of all, blue light isn’t all bad. Blue-turquoise light is needed for color perception, it helps to regulate the circadian rhythm, and is important for the pupillary reflex. Secondly, research is taking place to develop blue light filters that filter out the bad blue, yet keep the good blue. Ophthalmic lenses manufacturer Essilor and Paris Vision Institute teamed up in 2008 to find out about which bands of visible light are harmful to the human eye and they found that the blue-violet causes the most retinal cell death. So, they worked to find a light filter or lens that blocks UV and blue-violet light, but lets in the blue-turquoise light. They used Light Scan™, a patented technology for this work. It filters out the harmful light but allows the good light to pass through a lens. In addition, there is no color distortion and there is excellent color clarity.
The lens also provides front and back protection. The front deflects the UV light and 20 percent of the blue-violet light. The back protects against reflective glare. This type of technology can be used by those who have a family history of macular degeneration, as well as frequent users of computers and digital devices. Since computer and digital devices aren’t going away, using filters like this may help to reduce incidents of macular degeneration and improve vision health outcomes.