The blue light in LED lighting used in offices and homes can damage the eye’s retina and disturb our biological and sleep rhythms, a new study reports.
LED lights use less electricity per lumen and cost less than traditional light bulbs, but the long-term effects of LEDs is still unknown. A French health authority believes short-term exposure to blue light has “phototoxic effects” and increases the risk of degenerative eye disease.
What is an LED light?
LED stands for “light-emitting diode” and consists of a semiconductor chip on a reflective surface. When electricity passes through the semiconductor, it produces light. Light from LED bulbs is brighter than old fashioned light bulbs because LED produces short, high-intensity light waves toward the blue end of the electromagnetic spectrum. This is commonly known as blue light.
In the past, LEDs were limited to electronics, but they are now used for industrial, commercial and domestic purposes. By 2020, LEDs will represent almost 50 percent of total lumen-hour sales and by 2030, it will be 84 percent.
LED Light Increases Risk for Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Although LED is energy and cost-efficient, blue light can cause eye damage because the waves penetrate deeply into the retina. High-energy blue light, especially in car headlights, flashlights and toys, can damage the photoreceptors in the macula. This is the small spot in the middle of the retina that is necessary for sharp, central vision.
Deterioration of the macula can cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a leading cause of vision loss that affects about five percent of Americans 65 or older. An American study led by Gianluca Tosini, professor and chief scientific research officer at Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine, says small amounts of high-frequency blue light will not dramatically increase the risk of eye disease, but long-term exposure can be harmful.
LED Light Can Disrupt Biological Clock and Natural Sleep Patterns
Photoreceptors in the retina also communicate with the brain’s circadian rhythm, the internal processes that follow a 24-hour schedule. Mid-day exposure to blue light can enhance alertness, but blue light exposure at night can suppress sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin. Several studies suggest using electronics at night such as smartphones, tablets and other LED screens contribute to insomnia and poor sleep patterns.
Ways to Limit Blue Light Exposure
Currently, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has not found scientific data to support the theory that blue light damages the retina and or leads to AMD. However, Tosini affirms we need to continue to investigate the harmful effects of blue light, and he hopes scientists will “develop intelligent lighting systems that change the composition of lighting throughout the day” (CNN). In the meantime, there are several ways you can prevent being overexposed to blue light:
- Set limits on screen time, especially for children. Talk to your pediatrician or eye doctor about setting screen time limits by age.
- Stop using electronics at least two hours before bedtime.
- Take regular breaks from screens by following the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at an object at least 20 feet away.
- For household LED lamps and lighting, choose the lowest setting. Avoid staring at LED lights, laser pointers or flashlights.
- Consider using a blue light filter on your screens, or purchase anti-blue light glasses to wear when you are using LED screens. You can even download a blue light filter on your phone for free.
- Make yearly appointments for comprehensive eye exams. If you are experiencing vision changes, call your eye doctor right away. Many eye diseases have no symptoms in the early stages, so early detection is essential.
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