Pokémon Go is the game of the moment and your child is probably on the smartphone for hours every day. The blue light from the screen can turn what are sleepless nights now, into something more serious. If your child is having trouble sleeping at night, and it is not the monster under the bed he is scared of, it is probably the screen time he is exposed to. Screen time means exposure to blue light. Digital eye strain is usually blamed for eye fatigue and even an overall feeling of exhaustion.
It is a collective term to describe symptoms that people have after exposure to the screen for more than a couple of hours a day. When we focus on a screen, we blink less, in fact, only about 30 percent of the normal rate.
Convergence of the eye muscles makes them so tired that some people report a lack of focus and concentration, seeing double, or even feeling drained physically. Specialists are now discovering that blue light contributes to digital eye strain.
What is blue light?
Blue light technology gives screens brightness and clarity. Blue light waves are short, high-energy waves that flicker more. This creates a glare that is bad for the eyes. All digital devices expose a person to high energy visible blue light.
The eye does not deal very well with blue light, because it cannot block the light waves. It has the ability to block UV rays—in fact, just 1 percent of UV radiation enters the eye and hits the retina (the inner lining of the back of the eye). Blue light reaches the retina easily, causing irreversible damage. This exposure may increase the risk of macular degeneration, deterioration of the retina to the extent that it may result in blindness. Th is new danger associated with technology is what eye specialists are worried about.
My patient who is 13 years old has been experiencing severe headaches, red eyes and a disturbed sleep pattern. These days, a lot of homework is done online, and many children have access to (or have their own) digital devices that they use for increasingly longer periods of time.
Children’s eyes are still developing. Hence, their retina is much more susceptible to the harmful effects of blue light. It is also a sleep disruptor, because exposure to blue light can affect the production of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone. This is why children who use these devices a lot, especially before bed, may wake up feeling tired in the morning.
What we can do
» The obvious—switch off the phone when you can. Don’t just put it on silent. People who need to reach you urgently can do so over your landline.
» Use filters to cut blue light exposure.
» Ration your child’s mobile phone use. Advise your child on safe usage, such as taking breaks. The easiest way to address digital eye strain is to blink more. Blinking helps keep eyes lubricated.
» Hold the phone away from the eyes. Holding it too close puts the user at risk for myopia.
» Follow the 20-20-20 Rule—every 20 minutes, stare at something at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This gives the eyes a break, preventing dry eyes, pain and blurred vision.
»Talk to your eye doctor about lenses that filter out blue light. They help minimize direct blue light exposure.
(The author is an ophthalmologist at Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon)
(In arrangement with SMARTlife)