As a woman in my 40s whose work requires a lot of screen time, I shouldn’t be surprised that I have a hard time reading the text on my phone late at night. My attempts at making the text bigger prove frustrating as it leaves only a dozen or so words on the screen at a time. It’s just too much swiping. I finally gave in and purchased reading glasses with the very lowest prescription, and I hate them.
So when I saw headlines this month from websites such as USA Today and CNET saying scientists had proven the blue light from electronics can “speed up blindness,” I thought I had found the reason behind my blurry nighttime vision. I quickly looked for ways to ditch my readers, including turning on the blue light filters on my devices and maybe even wear some of those blue light glasses with yellow lenses.
It would be nice if that were all it took, but in doing some serious research, I realized the solution isn’t so simple.
Scientists from the University of Toledo did make some interesting findings this summer, which the journal Scientific Reports published in July, but as I did my research, I came across an article from The Verge that shed additional light — pun intended — on the study.
As the article points out, the findings do show that blue light can damage cells, but scientists performed this study using blue light that did not come from a screen and using cells — many types, including "cancer cells, immune cells, and yes, a type of cell found in the eye" — that were in a dish, not actually in an eyeball, according to The Verge, which spoke to Ajith Karunarathne, the paper's senior author. Karunarathne said the study showed one way blue light can damage cells but added, “The question is whether it’s happening in the eye.” He told The Verge the researchers haven’t done any experiments with the light coming out of digital screens. “So, I have to limit our conclusions,” Karunarathne admitted.
I guess the blue light from my screens isn’t the reason I am now bespectacled during my nighttime reading. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says there is no scientific evidence that blue light from digital devices causes damage to eyes and to skip trying the blue light glasses. But the academy also says blue light does disrupt sleep cycles and makes it more difficult to go to sleep. This is worth noting since a 2016 Consumer Reports survey found 68 percent of Americans struggle with sleep at least once a week.
Manufacturers have made it fairly easy for digital device users to limit blue light exposure. To shift the display on an iPhone or iPad to warmer colors at night, go to Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. You can choose to manually change to the Night Shift setting, or set up an automatic recurring time frame for the effect. Mac users can find the feature at Apple Menu > System Preferences > Displays > Night Shift.
Digital Trends reports that most Samsung Galaxy phones have blue light filter settings and that many other Android phones have an option under Settings > Display > Night Light.
Microsoft also has a blue light filter for PC’s found in Settings > System > Display > Night Light. Users can set a timer for the function, or toggle the feature on and off manually.
My need for reading glasses is not necessarily because blue light is making me go blind, but more likely because of my age and simple digital eye strain. Also known as computer vision syndrome, this strain can cause dry eyes, headaches and vision problems. Treatments recommended by the American Optometric Association involve proper posture and computer positioning, good lighting to reduce glare and possibly using eyeglasses prescribed specifically for computer use. Blinking and taking breaks from staring at our screens can also help. The general rule is that for every 20 minutes of screen time, look into the distance for 20 seconds. The association also says resting your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of screen use can help prevent eye strain.
While this most recent blue light study may not be conclusive enough for me to throw out all my devices, it may persuade me to wear shades more often. Dr. Karl Citek with the AOA says if anything, the study lends support for wearing UV-A and UV-B blocking sunglasses when outdoors since sunlight has a much greater intensity than digital screens.