CES left me feeling blue

January 20, 2014

By Justin Bazan, OD

It was me and over 150,000 other tech enthusiasts, gawking over all things electronic. The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) was impressive on scale and new technology. It was never more apparent how tightly electronic devices (EDs) have woven themselves into the modern fabric of our lives. In fact, the buzz tech of CES was tech “wearables.” Think Google Glass, fitness monitors, and smart watches that we wear on the body or on our clothes.

However, as a spokesperson for The Vision Council, I was most interested in raising awareness about computer glasses. As eyecare providers (ECPs), it's important for us to consider the impact of these EDs and educate our patients on the effects on their visual system and ocular health. CES 2014 showcased many ocularly impactful pieces of tech that will be hitting shelves shortly. There was a plethora of ultra HD OLED displays and a marked explosion in the tablet landscape. The ocular implications are there, albeit often outshined by the cool factor of images so real that they truly look better than life.

My eyes were saccadically skipping from 4k display to 4k display, and from “i” device to “i” device, when they fixated on something truly new. There was a booth for a device named the “iBaby.” The iBaby, interesting. It was that term that made me really contemplate this pixel menagerie. It’s irrelevant as to what the device actually does. What is relevant is what this ED represents—a new generation of ED exposure from near-birth for potentially close to 100 years! Think about it. We start using EDs at earlier ages, we use them more frequently, spend more time on them, have multiples of them and will be using them for many years because we are living longer. The amount of lifetime screen use is staggering. My 2-year-old niece received a tablet for Christmas. She quickly learned how to use it because she was familiar with her parents’ smartphones and other EDs. She has a lifetime of use ahead of her, and I began to ponder the consequences.

Blue light hazard

Should we as ECPs have a professional concern for this increased lifetime exposure? The answer is probably yes if we have sworn to protect our patients’ vision and ocular health. New ophthalmic lens treatment technology was presented at CES that addresses the effects of high energy visible (HEV) light (~380 to 530nm), also known as blue light, which is emitted from EDs in particular the LCD, LED, and OLED displays. Due to research and ethical study design limitations, we will probably never see a direct significant clinical association between HEV light and macular degeneration; however, there is a growing body of evidence of laboratory studies that have shown evidence that HEV light will damage the retina.1-3 It appears to do so in ways consistent with the damage clinically observed in human macular degeneration. The basic concept is that the retinal cells are dying because the HEV light leads to the formation of damaging toxic reactive oxygen species.

Not your grandparents’ “blue blockers”

It is up to you as an ECP to determine if these studies are adequate enough for you to initiate action in your prescribing habits. If so, the question becomes, “What can we do about minimizing our risk to HEV light?” Well, we can all dig through the junk drawer and pull out our 1980s blue blockers and make sure we are using them anytime we are looking at our EDs. If that is not practical or desired, we may consider the advances made in lens technology.

Several manufacturers have developed lenses that will help prevent the accumulated damage of HEV light. The new generation of “blue blockers” is a significant improvement over the yellow-tinted lenses of the past. Those yellow-tinted lenses reduced HEV light, but it was at a cost of altering the color of what we see. The new lens technology allows for HEV light protection without using a colored lens. The lens reduces what is believed to be the most harmful transmittance range of HEV light by reflecting a critical amount of it off the front surface of the lens, preventing it from reaching the eye. Potentially harmful HEV light is bounced off the front of the lens, helping to keep the eye protected.

The world I have grown up in is one of UV awareness. Science and medicine have converged on the public to increase the importance of UV protection. But one point, the public and its healthcare providers were not aware of the dangers of UV radiation. I propose that HEV light protection will take a similar, if not quicker, path to ubiquity, especially considering many of us spend more time staring at a screen than basking in the sun. Although there may be subtle variations in the technology from manufacturer to manufacturer, we have it available to prescribe to our patients in the form of computer glasses.ODT

References

1. Rezai KA, Gasyna E, Seagle BL, Norris JR Jr, et al. AcrySof Natural filter decreases blue light-induced apoptosis in human retinal pigment epithelium. Graefes Arch Clin Expo Opthalmol. 2008 May;246(5):671-6.

2. Amault E, Barrau C, Nanteau C, Gondouin P, et al. Phototoxic action spectrum on a retinal pigment epithelium model of age-related macular degeneration exposed to sunlight normalized conditions. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 23;8(8).

3. Algvere PV, Marshall J, Seregard S. Age-related maculopathy and the impact of blue light hazard.Acta Ophthalmol Scand. 2006 Feb;84(1):4-15. 

Bazan, OD, J. (2014, January 20). CES left me feeling blue. Retrieved December 9, 2014.

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