Will working on a computer all day make me go blind?

A press release on this new study caught fire last week. Several news outlets reported on it (herehereherehere etc.) so get ready to field some questions from patients.

What were the headlines?
All were some variation of “blue light emitted from computers will accelerate blindness.”

Strong headline, right? Let’s break it down.
A study out of the University of Toledo published exactly how blue light is damaging to the retina. To explain this, we need to dip our toe back into biochem…
Let’s start with 11-cis retinal which is a photoreceptor chromophore and all-trans retinal is the photoproduct. Let’s simply call both of them retinal. Retinal is found in high concentrations in the retina, specifically in the photoreceptors. You need a continuous amount of retinal in order for photoreceptors to work.

What did the research team find?
They found that when they shined blue light on retinal, it disrupted the function of the cell-signaling phospholipid resulting in an increase in cytosolic calcium and then cell death.

To say all of that a simpler way…
Retinal is a molecule necessary for photoreceptor function. When this team shined blue light on retinal, it resulted in cell death. When photoreceptors die, they don’t regenerate and diseases like macular degeneration are the result of photoreceptor death.

How much blue light from devices is too much?
That is still up for debate. However, the authors suggest wearing sunglasses with a blue light filter and not looking at your devices in the dark.

Is there a silver lining to this study?
Yes. The researchers found that “a molecule called alpha tocopherol, a Vitamin E derivative and a natural antioxidant in the eye and body”, stops the cells from dying. This finding gives hope for new therapies to treat diseases like AMD.

Here is a great article summarizing common blue light questions.