In our modern society in North America, we are fortunate to have access to a variety of technology. Much of our modern technology enriches our lives with ease of communication, reduction in physical work load, and entertainment. Unfortunately, not all devices come without risks, particularly those with LED displays such as televisions, cell phones, tablets and computers. With the ongoing increase in accessibility to these devices, research is looking at potential harmful effects of excessive use. Like many things, the poison is in the dose – responsible use of technology is enriching, but overdoing it poses health hazards.
Perhaps the most concerning is the excess exposure to high-intensity LED light, including the particularly damaging blue wavelength of light. Blue light is found naturally in sunlight and is essential to our health in appropriate doses, but in nature it is balanced with other spectrums of light, including yellow, red, infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. Blue light from personal devices is found in ultra-high concentrations and is not appropriately balanced by other wavelengths of light. The result of this is damage to the energy-producing mitochondria within our cells, increased free radical damage from oxidative stress, and rapid cell death. One organ that is particularly sensitive to this cellular degradation is the eye, and excessive blue light exposure is being linked to an increased risk of developing macular degeneration.
Turning down the brightness on your device is a good first step, as is adjusting the colour tone of your display. On iPhones and Apple computers, a feature called “Night Shift” allows you to adjust the colour of your display to the warmer side, reducing the amount of blue you’re exposed to. Android device owners can install apps such as “Flux” that allow you to perform the same task. It’s best to avoid too much screen time after dark to avoid circadian rhythm disruption, but if you must watch television or use your computer in the evening, special glasses called “blue blockers” with dark amber lenses can be worn to block out 100% of the blue light from your screens to protect your eyes and your sleep.
Aside from blue-dominant LED screens, another factor associated with eye damage is overusing short-sighted vision for prolonged periods. Using the same muscles for viewing objects relatively close to the eye for an extended amount of time can damage components within the eye, leading to an increased risk for developing myopia (near sightedness). This issue can be remedied by taking frequent breaks to look at distant objects, giving the muscles in the eye a break. Bonus points for looking outside, where you will also exposure your eye to natural, balanced wavelengths of light.
Our eyes rely on robust amounts of nutrients and antioxidants to protect themselves and function optimally. The increase in oxidative stress creates a higher demand for antioxidants, including essential vitamin C, vitamin E, and selenium. Antioxidant depletion within the cell can lead to macular degeneration, poor night vision, and overall degraded eyesight. Consuming plant based foods rich in polyphenols and antioxidants can help protect cells, the highest concentrations being found in organic coffee, green tea, chaga mushroom, cacao and fresh herbs such as rosehips, and smaller amounts in fresh, seasonal produce. Salmon is a particularly good source of an antioxidant called astaxanthin, which has been extensively studied and found to effectively protect the eyes. Lutein and zeaxanthin are other carotenoids that can protect and improve eye health.
Technology is here to stay and can be beneficial when used responsibly, so take protective measures to preserve your eye health long term by taking regular breaks, utilizing features to reduce blue hues, and consume an abundance of nutrients including minerals and antioxidants.
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.