All smartphone and tablet screens also emit blue light. Neither blue light or retinal alone damaged the cells.
The results of a new study warn against using devices such as smartphones in the dark, as the blue light emitted from screens can damage the eye. "Photoreceptors are useless without retinal, which is produced in the eye". Blue light from digital devices and the sun transforms vital molecules in the eye's retina into cell killers, according to optical chemistry research at The University of Toledo.
The researchers are now measuring light coming from televisions, cell phones and tablet screens to get a better understanding of how cells in the eyes respond to everyday blue light exposure.
"We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye's cornea and lens can not block or reflect it", Dr. Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said.
Macular degeneration, an incurable eye disease that results in significant vision loss starting on average in a person's 50s or 60s, is the death of photoreceptor cells in the retina. This is because the blue light causes it to trigger a series of reactions - a molecule in the affected cell's membrane distorts, then an increase in calcium changes its shape, and the cell dies.
Caused by the death of light-sensitive cells in the retina, while it doesn't result in total blindness the condition can make things like reading and recognising faces hard.
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Dr Ajith Karunarathne, an assistant professor in the university's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said: "We are being exposed to blue light continuously and the eye's cornea and lens can not block or reflect it".
"We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye's cornea and lens can not block or reflect it", said Ajith Karunarathne, assistant professor in the UT Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and one of the authors of the study.
Ratnayake said once these photoreceptor cells are dead, they are dead "for good" and can not be regenerated.
In the lab, the researchers combined retinal with various cells from the body, including photoreceptor cells, neurons, and heart cells.
The researchers did find a molecule called alpha-tocopherol that can stop the cells from dying, but the natural antioxidant fails to protect older users who are more susceptible to macular degeneration. "We know how it happened because there are multiple paths that lead to the cell death", said Karunarathne.
Karunarathne said you can use special sunglasses that filter both UV and blue light to try and combat the effects, but experts are unsure whether they do that much good. Any medicine would appear to help or delay macular degeneration, a condition that sees about 2 million new cases reported per year.
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