Gary L. Morgan, OD, focuses his blog on AMD prevention, strategies for monitoring patients with AMD, the effects of blue light on the retina and mitigating the unforeseen effects of technology on vision and overall health. He is in private practice at Eye Tech Associates in Arizona.

Disclosure: Morgan is an advisory board member for Arctic Dx, MacuHealth and Signet Armorlite.

BLOG: Blue light - Our world has changed

But look at how our exposure to blue light, even just over the last 10 years has changed.  CRT computer screens, which had longer wavelength emission spectra, started being phased out in 2002 and have essentially disappeared. Sleek flat-panel LED screens have replaced the bulky CRT; however, their spectral emission is much more blue, peaking between 440 nm and 455 nm. The iPhone was introduced in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, yet according to a report from Cisco, these and similar devices will outnumber people on earth in 2014. 

A 2011 study found that we tend to hold electronic screens closer to our eyes than printed material, and, of course, children with short arms hold them even closer. 

I recently visited with a former classmate of mine, Thomas Gosling, OD, who demonstrated a blue light sensor that measures the intensity of light emitted between 400 nm and 450 nm. He explained to me that intensity is proportional to one over the square of the distance a light source is held, (inverse-square law: I~1/d2). So an iPad held at 8 inches by a child actually has about four times the intensity than if the device were held at 16 inches by an adult. It seems to me that this is a critical point to consider regarding the dangers of blue light exposure.

In yet another study from 2010, it was found that kids 8 years to 18 years old were viewing electronic screens an average of 7.5 hours per day. If this study were repeated today and included even younger kids, I have a feeling the number of hours would be even higher. In our school district, some classes are using tablets instead of textbooks.

Essentially, these children are using electronic devices for their social life, entertainment and schoolwork. And, as adults, aren’t we doing the same?

A preponderance of evidence links cumulative lifetime exposure to blue light to risk of AMD development. The amount of blue light coming off of a smart phone or tablet is relatively low; the amount of blue light emitted from a 13-watt CFL bulb (60-watt incandescent equivalent) is much higher, but we do not sit with those 14 inches from our eyes for hours on end. 

One of the greatest unanswered questions in the current blue light conversation is: How much exposure and at what level of radiation will damage occur in humans?

We also know that blue light affects circadian rhythm, which can influence a host of broader health issues. I will explore this further in future posts. For now, thanks for reading.

References:

Bababekova Y, et al. Optom Vis Sci. 2011;88(7):795-797. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0b013e3182198792.

Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2013–2018. http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/white_paper_c11-520862.html. Posted Feb. 25, 2014. Accessed Dec. 1, 2014.

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Generation M2.  Media in the lives of 8- to 18-year-olds. http://kff.org/other/report/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of-8-to-18-year-olds/. Posted Jan. 20, 2010. Accessed Dec. 1, 2014.

Klein R, et al. Ophthalmology. 2008;115(9):1460–1467.

Tomany S, et al. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122:750-757.