Blue Light
04 Apr

Blue Light Speeds Up Blindness

A recent study from the University of Toledo suggests that blue light from digital devices as well as the sun transform vital molecules in the sun’s retina into cell killers, according to 

"We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye's cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it," Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said. "It's no secret that blue light harms our vision by damaging the eye's retina. Our experiments explain how this happens, and we hope this leads to therapies that slow macular degeneration, such as a new kind of eye drop."

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that when exposed to blue light, retinal molecules in the eye turn into poisonous chemical molecules in photoreceptor cells. As a person ages, their ability to fight against these transformed molecules decreases. 

"It's toxic. If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signaling molecule on the membrane dissolves," Kasun Ratnayake, a Ph.D. student researcher working in Karunarathne's cellular photo chemistry group, said. "Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they're dead, they're dead for good."

This process can even lead to an incurable disease known as macular degeneration, resulting in significant vision loss starting around a person’s 50s or 60s.

"If you look at the amount of light coming out of your cell phone, it's not great but it seems tolerable," Dr. John Payton, visiting assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said. "Some cell phone companies are adding blue-light filters to the screens, and I think that is a good idea."

After receiving media attention from the study, Karunarathne clarified, “Our findings do not show that light from digital devices causes blindness!” 

“Whether blue light from mobile devices and digital screens induces similar toxicity levels is an unanswered question and is currently under investigation,” he added, “Even if such a scenario is found, since the studies are done in cultured cells, that would not indicate that these devices can cause similar damages to the vision. Nevertheless, some literature reports suggest that removal of blue component from intense light can reduce vision damages.”

Karunarathne recommends protecting your eyes from blue light by wearing sunglasses that can filter both UV and blue light outside and avoid looking at cell phones or tablets in the dark. Aside from the risk of disease and eye degeneration, continued exposure to blue light leads to eye strain, which may be assuaged by yellow-tinted lenses crafted to increase comfort and reduce blue-light exposure. 

"Every year more than two million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States," Karunarathne said. "By learning more about the mechanisms of blindness in search of a method to intercept toxic reactions caused by the combination of retinal and blue light, we hope to find a way to protect the vision of children growing up in a high-tech world."

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