Blue Light and Your Child's Health

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It’s an enduring social image of our age:  Groups of kids who sit beside each other or at round tables, not making eye contact with humans but only with the screens they hold.  There’s no conversation.  Only the silent movement of fingers and the glow of blue light.

While this has great implications for your child’s social and intellectual development, there are immediate and long-term impacts on health that can be concretely measured by medical professionals. For instance, problems with posture and pain have led to the diagnosis of so-called “text neck” in people who sit looking at cellphones and tablets.

But a more silent and dangerous problem is some types of blue light and is described by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Blue light is good—it’s necessary to human health, especially in the way it helps us develop sleep rhythms and boosts alertness. Without blue light from the sun, children can actually become nearsighted.

But blue light is also found in cool white fluorescent bulbs, in black lights such as in nightclubs, and in electronics screens that we hold close to our eyes for extended periods of time. This kind of blue light reactions in humans, TSBVI says, can cause degeneration, or breakdown, of the retinas of the eyes. Even ophthalmologists, who must use blue light in their work, are beginning to filter that light through a yellow lens, which keeps blue light from their own eyes.

Actually, our own lenses inside our eyes become yellow with age, and perform the same type of function. However, that’s not true for children, TSBVI says:

“Youths under the age of 20, and especially very young children, have little or no yellowing of the lens. Therefore any UV or blue light which enters the eye is unfiltered and strikes the retina at full‑strength exposing not only the retina, but the lens to damage. . .There is mounting medical evidence that prolonged exposure to blue light may permanently damage the eyes, contribute to the formation of cataracts and to the destruction of cells in the center of the retina. . .”

A study from the US government’s National Institutes for Health indicates that short exposures (days to weeks) to blue light don’t seem to be dangerous, but that more research is needed to evaluate long-term exposure.

What can you do to protect your child’s eyes from blue light damage?

Prevent Blindness recommends the following:

1) Limit screen time and take frequent breaks to look away.

2) Consider a screen filter that decreases blue light.

3)  Look into computer glasses with yellow lenses or anti-reflective lenses

4) Talk to your eye care professional for other suggestions.

Since 1992, Dr. Robinson has worked in a variety counseling positions. She is also a popular author and speaker on topics ranging from childhood development and sexuality, teen issues, family dynamics including caring for elderly relatives, and church resources for families.

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