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How blue light from computers, smartphones destroys your eyes

Health & Science
 Diana Lang'at, an optometrist at Lapaire Kenya, taking a patient through an eye test. [File, Standard]

Patience Ahumuza, a digital communications consultant cannot live without her eyeglasses which she has been wearing since 2010, because of the effect of the blue light from screens.

Even while in school, Patience, who is short-sighted, recalls “I could barely see what the teacher was writing and an optician recommended eyeglasses.”  

Patience would get frequent headaches and thought the glasses were too strong for her, but even changing them did not solve anything, and spending over 14 hours in front of a computer did not help matters as the blue light affected her eyesight further.

When Covid-19 struck, time spent on her phone and laptop increased considering “my work is completely online and when Covid-19 came, I could barely leave my laptop.”  

Her situation is not different from Vincent Maina, a radio personality popularly known as Ojwang Mariam who was born near-sighted.

Maina would rub his eyes when exposed to sunlight, dust, or smoke. Eye drops didn’t help and had to wear eyeglasses, but the situation changed with Covid-19 which forced people to work from home.

Being exposed to dust, smoke or light also began affecting the eyesight of Kelvin Imbwaga, a singer and a media student, about four years. The itching worsened when Covid-19 forced many colleges to adopt online learning and “I cannot live without my laptop and I cannot live without my phone.”  

Many people with eyesight problems were also restricted from visiting hospitals due to social distancing limitations besides some eye hospitals being converted into isolation wards.

 Symptoms of myopia include; squinting, headaches, night blindness and blurry vision. [iStock]

Diana Lang’at, an optometrist at Lapaire Kenya says working from home exposed many Kenyans to the blue light on phones and computer screens during online meetings and classes.

“Children were also exposed to too much blue light at home watching television, from laptops and tablets as they stayed indoors, especially in urdan areas,” she says explaining that prolonged exposure to blue light emitted by computer screens saw an increased demand for computer protective glasses.

Diana adds that it is essential to rest from screens during the day using the 20-20 rule: “for every 20 minutes on screen, take 20 seconds break and look at 20-feet distance to avoid strains,” she explains.

Eyes, says Diana, need constant exercises and mobility which they’re denied via being fixated on screens for long inducing headaches, red eyes, eye dryness, and itching which accelerates refraction errors like myopia or hypermetropia-one of the leading eye problems.

Symptoms of myopia includes; squinting, headaches caused by eye strain, night blindness while driving and blurry vision when looking at distant objects.

In children, symptoms include sitting closer to the TV: “while some will have difficulties maintaining concentration in class leading to poor grades,” explains Diana adding that dealing with myopia involves prescribing eyeglasses, contact lenses, laser surgery or ocular implants.

Though phone and computer screens are somewhat inevitable in the current world, helpful tips to avoid overstraining includes, positioning oneself 30cm from phone screen, 60cm from a computer screen and three metres from a TV screen.

Diana says children are particularly sensitive to blue light as their retina does not filter it well and “Children under three years should not be allowed to watch screens, those between three and 12 years should not spend more than two hours a day on screen because their retinas are not entirely developed.”  

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