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Stare at screens all day? ‘Toxic’ light could be slowly blinding you, new study finds

A study in the journal Scientific Reports found that blue light from cell phone and laptop screens can permanently kill cells in the eyes, potentially leading to blindness later in life.
A study in the journal Scientific Reports found that blue light from cell phone and laptop screens can permanently kill cells in the eyes, potentially leading to blindness later in life. Creative Commons - Japanexperterna.se

From cellphones to laptops to tablets, screens are all around us — and for many, it’s hard to look away.

But a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that might be a bad thing for your vision.

That’s because scientists found that many of those electronic screens emit a blue light, which is “toxic” for your eyes and can permanently kill some of the cells that play a integral role in helping you see the world around you. Those findings led researchers from the University of Toledo to declare that staring at certain things like your cellphone screen actually “speeds blindness.”

Kasun Ratnayake, a doctoral student researcher who took part in the study, said in a University of Toledo press release that once it happens, the damage from blue light seems impossible to reverse.

“It’s toxic. If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells as the signaling molecule on the membrane dissolves,” he said. “Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they’re dead, they’re dead for good.”

For the study, researchers examined what would happen to retinal, a molecule in the eye that’s crucial for a person’s vision, if they exposed it to the same blue light that is often present in electronic screens.

It turns out that introducing the retinal to blue light leads the molecule to have a “poisonous” reaction, the study found. When combined with neurons and cancer cells, retinal that had been exposed to blue light killed them all — suggesting it could do the same to those found in the human eye.

That can lead to macular degeneration, or when the middle of the retina begins to deteriorate, giving many blurred vision that could grow worse over time.

The disease is the leading cause of blindness for those over 65, the CDC says, and it’s expected that 88 million Americans will have it by 2050.

Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, an author on the study, said in a press release that not all types of light are dangerous, as “no activity is sparked with green, yellow or red light.” Instead, he said, it’s just blue light, which “can kill any cell type.”

Still, don’t fret about any impending blindness. Karunarathne noted that the risk is higher as people age and their bodies stop producing alpha tocoferol, a molecule and antioxidant that can help ward off the damage from blue light, according to the press release.

As more research is needed, those involved in the study say to avoid looking at screens at night — and that scientists should look into developing an eye drop that could perhaps ward off some of the damage caused by the ubiquity of screens with blue light, WTOL reported.

Jordan Guyton, who attends the University of Toledo, told WTOL that he now views his phone in a whole new light.

“It’s definitely eye-opening, in a pun sense,” he said. “Wow, seeing that new research is definitely going to make me consider a lot on how much time I spend on my phone and looking at the screen.”

Scientists and researchers continue to search for a link between cell phones and cancer.

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