While putting final touches on a conference program for Saturday, I noticed how many “friends” were on FB. It was bitter cold – wind chills of up to 30 below in the past 36 hours. In fact, I could pretty well tell the temperature outside by the number of local “friends” on chat.
The conference program is on mass media. In it, I ask: how much time do you spend on screens? The program focus is on perceptions of difference. But there is another type of focus.
My eyes first got “off” when I was spending long hours and intense computer time as part of ramping up an organizational diversity initiative some years ago. People nodded knowingly and said, “Well, it’s about time…” in reference to my chronological age. Until then, I’d had the eagle eyes of my father. I was convinced it was the screen, which I also thought was influencing my sleep.
You remember rods and cones, right? Well, I’d heard about the discovery of a third neuroreceptor in the human eye. It didn’t have a monosyllabic name, though, so of course it didn’t stick in my mind like “rod” or “cone”. My kindly ophthalmologist didn’t know but, he said, the screen had nothing to do with either my vision or sleep. No matter that I’d found myself with my head down on my arms in front of the screen, jagged lines dancing behind closed eyelids, without even knowing I’d stopped working. Stress, he said.
Thus began a several year cycle of prescription glasses and adjustments. Sometimes the prescription would be good for eight weeks. The record was eight months. My eyes kept getting worse.
Then my daughter started having blurry vision. She was a college student – lots of time online for lots of reasons and way too young in my book to not see the clean edges of the pine-treed ridges against the Rocky Mountain sky. (This is a common self-diagnostic tool in our state, I’ve learned.) She found an optometrist with an alternative approach.
Here’s some of what we found out from Dr. Rebecca Hutchins:
There is, in fact, a third class of neuroreceptors in the human retina. Melanopsin was identified in 1998. Guess what it does? It regulates Circadian rhythms, those daily 24-hour activity/rest cycles of people and other organisms. Guess what else? Melanopsin cells are particularly sensitive to short wave-length blue light – to the exact light that emanates from our screens.
The case for rose-colored glasses
It is possible to protect our melanopsin – and with it, our eyesight and other things. It’s called FL41.
FL41 lenses were first used to treat photosensitivity, migraines and related disorders. Dr. Hutchins has explored the role of FL41 in treating mania and in mediating harmful effects of shift work and light pollution.
FL41 is an amber or rose colored tint. This tint can offset the effects of the blue light that come from computers and televisions. Dr. Hutchins recommended FL41 computer glasses for my daughter and me and, preventatively, for my son.
Within a few months, my daughter and I had each noticed improvement in our vision. When I went back for a prescription check on my regular glasses months later, my vision had improved to such an extent that my corrections were cut by approximately 1/3. I am now past the two year mark with those same glasses. I can work on the computer for long periods without ill effects (an admittedly mixed blessing) and the tips of the evergreen needles out my window today are crystal clear.
Many office and big box stores sell “computer glasses”. They are not the same. And information about the FL41 tint isn’t as readily available online as you would expect. Which is why I feel compelled to mention FL41 whenever I talk about media. Because no matter our differences, those who have good vision generally want to protect it.
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