Scientists from the University Complutense of Madrid (UCM) announced in Boston Monday that LED light, including that emitted by digital screens, may be permanently damaging to your eyes, potentially leading to retina damage and vision loss. The research will be published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology.
While anyone with a desk job knows that screens can cause eyestrain, most clinical resources maintain that daily use, even if temporarily uncomfortable, does not lead to long-term damage. UCM’s study, however, suggests the opposite—though more research is needed to say that for sure.
“These results are important because LED screens are being used by the majority of the population, adults and children, for work, school, and entertainment,” lead researcher Celia Sanchez-Ramos said in a statement. “This study indicates a possible massive risk for the human population, taking into consideration that retina damage is the biggest cause of central blindness.”
The UCM team tested the effects of LED exposure on rats, placing six tablets emitting white LED light around the animals’ cages. Tablets were turned on for 16 hours, then turned off for eight. After three months of this pattern, the exposed rats showed 23 percent more retina cell death than the control group. Gene expression that promotes cell death was also heightened in the tablet group.
Researchers did find that rats looking at tablets equipped with an LED-blocking filter called Reticare (which was developed by a team from UCM) did not experience greater eye cell death.
While more research is necessary to see if the results also apply to humans, it’s never a bad thing to unplug for a little while. And if your job leaves you beholden to a digital screen, follow the advice of Harvard Health Publications: Look away from the screen at least every 20 minutes, blink frequently, and adjust the lighting to prevent a glare.