Blue light emitted from smartphones and other digital devices can accelerate blindness by transforming vital molecules in the eye’s retina into cell killers, a study has found. Blue light has shorter wavelength and more energy compared with other colours, and this can gradually affect your eyesight.
Dr Ajith Karunarathne, an assistant professor in the university’s department of chemistry and biochemistry, said: “We are being exposed to blue light continuously and the eye’s cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it. 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.”
Macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that results in significant vision loss starting on average in a person’s 50s or 60s, is the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina. Those cells need molecules called retinal to sense light and trigger a cascade of signalling to the brain.
As per the study, photoreceptor cells need molecules called retinal to sense light and trigger signalling to the brain, enabling us to see.
Researchers found that being exposed to blue light causes retinal to set off a chain of reactions that leads to toxic molecules being created in the photoreceptor cells. The research by University of Toledo in the US and published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that blue light exposure causes retinal to trigger reactions that generate poisonous chemical molecules in photoreceptor cells.
“Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good,” said said Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student researcher working in Karunarathne’s group.
Karunarathne introduced retinal molecules to other cell types in the body, such as cancer cells, heart cells and neurons. When exposed to blue light, these cell types died as a result of the combination with retinal. Blue light alone or retinal without blue light had no effect on cells.
The researcher found that a molecule called alpha tocoferol, a Vitamin E derivative and a natural antioxidant in the eye and body, stops the cells from dying. However, as a person ages or the immune system is suppressed, people lose the ability to fight against the attack by retinal and blue light.
For those wanting to protect their eyes from blue light, Dr Karunarathne advises wearing sunglasses that can filter both UV and blue light outside and avoiding browsing on mobile phones or tablets in the dark.
“Some cell phone companies are adding blue-light filters to the screens, and I think that is a good idea,” said John Payton, visiting assistant professor at University of Toledo.