The Dangers of LED Lighting: How It Can Cause Eye Damage and Sleep Problems, European Health Authority Says

A new study by the French Health Authority warns that the use of LED neon signs lights could cause damage to the retina and disrupt our sleep rhythms.

According to the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (known as ANSES) the latest research has proven the “phototoxic effects” of short-term exposures to high-intensity light. Additionally, there is a greater likelihood of developing age-related macular degeneration from long-term exposure to lower-intensity sources. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading reason for vision loss in people over 50. It can cause damage to the macula (a tiny area in the central part of your retina that is essential for clear central vision).

However, the degree of protection against the harmful effects of blue light on the retina provided by screens, filters, and glasses is not guaranteed. ANSES said that their ability to preserve the rhythm of sleep was not proven.

Lighting 101

LEDs or light-emitting devices comprise a semiconductor chip positioned on a reflective surface; when electricity runs through the semiconductor, light is created.

Blue light isn’t new. Sunlight produces light rays of blue which have more energy than other wavelengths within the light spectrum. And old-fashioned lightbulbs produced some blue light, although less than what is emitted by energy-efficient curly (fluorescent) lightbulbs or LEDs.

LED neon signs are “undergoing rapid technological and economic growth as a brand new source of lighting. They were initially used in electronics, but are now integral components of lighting systems” ANSES reported in an earlier study. LEDs are used in commercial and domestic settings today.

According to the US Department of Energy, the LED lighting market is being used more extensively across the United States. This is an improvement in terms of energy consumption because they consume significantly less electricity per lumen compared to traditional lighting technologies. According to the department LED lighting will account for 48% of all lumen hour sales by 2020 and 84% by 2030.

ANSES distinguishes different types of blue light within their report. For example, “warm white” domestic LED neon signs lighting poses weak phototoxicity dangers, which is similar to traditional lighting, according to ANSES. Other LED lighting sources like flashlights, automobile headlights, and toys emit more hazardous white light.

Additional scientific evidence

An American study also discussed the usage of blue light as “increasingly significant” in today’s world. The study’s lead author GianlucaTosini Professor of Atlanta’s Morehouse School of Medicine and the chief scientific researcher officer stated that blue light can cause eye damage if it falls lower than 455 nanometers in intensity and wavelength.

Tosini who was not part of the ANSES study In an email, Tosini wrote in an email that “there are photoreceptors that reflect blue light in the retina that directly communicate with the brain’s circadian rhythms.” Light exposure in the evening can indeed alter the circadian rhythms of sleep, primarily by inhibiting the production of the hormone responsible for promoting sleep Melatonin.

He also mentioned that some studies have proven that “exposure to blue light in the middle of the day may be beneficial” in that it increases alertness.

Janet Sparrow, a professor of ophthalmic sciences at Columbia University, wrote in an email that “blue light is thought to aid individuals in maintaining the routines of daily life that permit sleep.”

The retina “accumulates fluorescent molecules, commonly known as lipofuscin” explained Sparrow, who was not part of the ANSES report. “These substances become more plentiful as you age, and they are more sensitive to blue light.” The early evidence suggests that this sensitivity may result in unhealthful optical responses in time she added.

Tosini said that researchers believe that exposure to LED blue light that is in the range of 470-480 nanometers over a short to medium time (days to weeks) is not likely to substantially increase the risk of eye disease, but the same isn’t always the case for exposure over a long period (months to years).

He said he believes that more research is needed to gain a better understanding of the subject that hurts the health of many people. Intelligent lighting systems that change the light composition throughout the day could provide the solution to the blue light problem the doctor said.

2017 independent review of scientific research also supports the conclusions in the ANSES report. The review looked into the benefits and harms of “blue blocking” lenses that are marketed to guard against the effects of phototoxic. It found that there was no evidence to support their use in the general population to improve eye performance, quality of sleep, eye fatigue, or preserve macular health.

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But, Sparrow said that generally speaking, sunglasses block ultraviolet light, and sunglasses “that are yellow-colored should be preferred as they decrease the amount of blue light that hits the retina.”

In the end, ANSES believes the recommended maximum exposure limit for short-term exposure to blue light should be revised downward even though most people would only rarely be in a position to reach that level. The French authority noted that children and teens are the most sensitive to blue light because their eyes do not filter it fully. The agency also recommended that only devices with low risk be available to consumers and that the brightness of car headlights be reduced.

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