By Renae Reints
August 15, 2018

The blue light emitted from our everyday electronics can accelerate blindness, a study from the University of Toledo found.

According to the research conducted by the University of Toledo, blue light turns certain molecules in our eyes into “cell killers.” The process leads to macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease affecting more than 10 million Americans.

Macular degeneration is the death of photoreceptor cells in the eye. It’s usually brought on by age, and can eventually lead to blindness. Researchers, however, discovered blue light can cause retinal molecules — the vital molecules that sense light and trigger signaling to the brain — to essentially poison the photoreceptor cells.

“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 PhD student working in the research group, told the University of Toledo News. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.”

Blue light is naturally present in sunlight, but with the growing ubiquity of electronic devices — and the light glaring from their screens — one’s exposure to blue light can become harmful. According to the National Sleep Foundation, blue light suppresses the body’s production of melatonin, which regulates your sleep cycle. This can make it difficult to fall asleep, on top of the newly discovered threat of eye damage.

In other experiments, the researchers found that the combination of blue light and retinal molecules can lead to the death of any type of cell, including cancer cells, heart cells, and neurons. They noted that a certain molecule natural to the body, alpha tocopherol, can stop these cells from dying. But as individuals age or their body weakens, the defense is hindered.

“Every year more than two million new cases of age-related macular degeneration are reported in the United States,” Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, told the UT News. “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.”

Many smartphone companies have started including a blue light filter in their screens to abate this issue. Apple offers a “Night Shift” setting for all iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches; the setting automatically changes the device’s color spectrum to warmer tones in the evening, lessening the blue light that feels especially harsh in a darker environment.

You can also wear certain glasses that filter blue light from both screens and sunlight. They typically have a slightly yellow tint due to the filter, but can ease the strain electronic devices put on your eyes and help fight the effects of blue light exposure.

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