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'A Touch of the Digital Blues'

By Royston Bayfield
 

The world is forever changing, but at a quicker rate now than ever before. We are constantly plugged in and slaves to our digital devices. If in doubt, just think back to the last time you were walking down the street and someone nearly bumped into you because they were texting on their phone. I’ll admit, I’m guilty of this too! Last month I wrote about digital eyestrain caused by the increasing visual demands we place on ourselves when we frequently use technology. For more about this, read last month’s blog by clicking here.

“Digital eyestrain is not limited to adults or the workplace. Children are also at risk for eyestrain due to growing use of digital devices. Children today have more digital tools at their disposal than ever before—tablets, smart phones, e-readers, handheld video games and computers. Whatever happened to playing outside? Somehow 'Angry Birds' usurped hide-and-seek because children and teenagers (ages 8 to 18) are spending more than 7.5 hours a day consuming electronic media," according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. "This overuse can cause digital eyestrain, a medical issue with serious symptoms that can affect learning and work productivity. Symptoms of digital eyestrain, or computer vision syndrome, include blurry vision, difficulty focusing, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, neck pain and back pain. Digital eyestrain is now the number one computer-related complaint ahead of carpal tunnel syndrome." (Source: VSPblog.com)
 

So what can we do about this?

Firstly ensure we are using the correct eye wear like Zeiss’ revolutionary digital lens which ensures that the prescription is right to support this significant change to our lifestyle. Next we make sure we use the right lens materials and anti-reflection coatings.

Today's major influencers which can negatively impact clear and healthy vision are:

  • Time in the sun without protection

  • Lack of lighting

  • Spending long periods of time doing tasks which require your vision

  • Internet surfing

  • Using visual electronics

People are starting to make the connection between UV protection for both their skin and their eyes. In contrast, the hazards of blue light radiation (just as important as UV radiation) are much less recognised as it is still an emerging topic, hence the lack of awareness. This is where I think I come in – I need to spread the word!
 

The Blues

In the words of Loreal “here’s the science bit”: Blue light is part of the visible spectrum – it is made up of the wavelengths perceived as the colours violet-blue to light blue.

There are three important blue light concerns: 1. Violet and blue are the shortest, highest energy visible wavelengths and are scattered easily, creating haze that can reduce contrast and affect the sharpness and clarity of what you see. 2. High-energy blue light can cause permanent retinal damage and finally, 3. Many of the newest electronic devices emit significant blue light.

Wave Spectrum

For me, the most concerning of these is that these blue wavelengths of light have been shown to cause photochemical injury to the retina. This basically causes an oxidation process, which in simple terms prematurely ages cells at the back of the eye. This may be linked to eye disease such as macular degeneration. The Beaver Dam Eye Study (what a brilliant title!)showed that those who had high levels of sun exposure from their teens to their late 30s had an increased risk of developing the early changes in Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)This was caused by the UV radiation and also the short wavelength/high energy light at the blue end of the visible spectrum. This is called blue light hazard and these same wavelengths of light that cause this are present in the light emitted from many digital devices.
 

Is all Blue light bad?

Well actually, no! In nature’s typically playful way, she has created an interesting Catch 22 for us mere mortals. Get this: ironically, we actually need blue light! It is directly linked to our circadian rhythms (the phase our body and mind goes through on a 24-hour basis), it’s what helps us get up in the morning. This is why we sleep better in a completely dark environment (without blue light) and feel much better when we wake up and it’s a lovely sunny day (because the sun’s rays contain blue light). However, too much of a good thing and too much of anything is bad for you. So just like our eating, drinking and exercise regimes and routines, it’s important to get the balance right with blue light too. We need to have the right amount of blue light at the right times. We didn’t evolve using our iPhones, so for me this is probably blue light my visual system can do without!
 

Blue light coatings

 It’s not all morbid though - help is at hand! To combat the increased level of blue light from our digital world we can use coatings on lenses to help out. Some lens manufactures have started to develop these products to defend our eyes. There are now anti-reflection coatings that prevent all the blue light passing through the lens to the eye and then the retina; coatings like Nikon's SeeCoat Blue or Essilor's Crizal® Prevencia. Yes, we’re fighting off the affects of technology with... technology! These pioneering coatings are just the first wave, specifically engineered to help us and I’m sure more and more will emerge over time. Watch this space because next month I’m blogging about how I suspect our iPhones are keeping us awake at night.

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