Search IconSearch

Are LED Lights Damaging Your Retina?

Plus, 3 screen time recommendations to protect your children

LED blue light effect on retina of eye

Saving the environment since 1962, the future is now for LED lights. Energy-efficient and cost-effective: What’s not to love?


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Well, according to recent studies: plenty. There’s growing concern that the blue light they emit may be damaging our eyes and health. Ophthalmologist Rishi Singh, MD, shines a light on this issue.

It’s raining LED lights

LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are like Amazon: They’re everywhere. LEDs have fast become the go-to lighting for both businesses and homes. The Department of Energy estimates they will represent nearly half of all lumen-hour sales by 2020 (lumens are a measure of emitted light).

It’s no wonder. From cellphones to TVs to computer screens, LED lights allow us to see the apples of our eyes — technology.

But here’s where Thomas Edison may be rolling over in his grave: LEDs produce short-wave, high-energy blue light, which has been linked to biological and sleep disturbances.

It is also associated with blue light hazard — when an intense light source causes damage to the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that changes light into impulses that become the images we see.

Are LED lights bad for you?

Scientists from the U.S. and Europe warn that LED lights could be doing more harm than good:

  • A 2012 Spanish study found that LED radiation can cause irreversible damage to the retina.
  • A 2019 report from the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) warned of the “phototoxic effects” of blue light exposure, including an increased risk for age-related macular degeneration. The report also noted that blue light blocking glasses and filters may not protect against these and other harmful effects.


But before you throw out all of your electronic devices (ha, yeah right!), Dr. Singh says the jury is still out. “Thus far, there is no true, strong study to show either way that it is harmful or beneficial,” explains Dr. Singh. “We haven’t had a marker of structural damage to the retina from these lighting technologies. So right now, we can’t recommend that people stop using them.”

How does blue light and screen time affect children’s health?

Despite the stalemate, Dr. Singh says it’s still important for parents to take screen time precautions with their kids. One reason is that children’s eyes don’t filter blue light as well as adults’ eyes do.

“There’s always a concern about children’s screen exposure,” notes Dr. Singh. “The younger the generation, the more exposure they have to screens and blue light from these LED-backlit devices. They’re getting far more exposure to this than we did in the past.”

Some screen time risks include:

  • Childhood myopia, or nearsightedness: Since 1971, the amount of people affected by nearsightedness in the U.S. has nearly doubled. A recent study confirmed that activities such as screen time, which require kids to see up close, shoulder some of the blame. “LED lighting may add to that since kids use their tablets and cellphones to do a lot of things.”
  • Digital eye strain: Dry, itchy eyes? Check. Blurry vision and headaches? Double check. Digital eye strain isn’t so much a condition as it is a set of symptoms caused by looking at a screen for too long.
  • Poor sleep: No, your kids’ morning grumpiness may not be (just) because they want to torture you. Screen time before bed has been shown to cause less sleepiness and melatonin secretion, altered sleep and wake cycles and more morning time grogginess.

Screen time recommendations to protect your children’s eyes

Dr. Singh recommends following the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s screen time tips, including:

  • Take frequent breaks: Teach your children to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Look at least 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds. A timer is a good way to remember to do this. If it’s an e-book or video game, kids can get in the habit of taking a break after they complete every other chapter or level.
  • Encourage outdoor play: One recent study showed that simply playing outside more can make kids less likely to develop nearsightedness — or if they do, have a weaker prescription.
  • Teach good screen habits: Children should hold screens at least 18 to 24 inches from their faces and blink often. And show them how to use good posture to help prevent the muscle tightness and headaches that go hand in hand with digital eye strain.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

An irritated, red eye
July 15, 2024/Eye Care
Why Your Eyes Are Always Red (and How To Fix Them)

Peepers get pink for lots of reasons, from allergies to closed-angle glaucoma

Adult receiving eye drops from a healthcare provider
May 10, 2024/Eye Care
When Is It Too Late To Treat Lazy Eye?

While it’s best to fix amblyopia during childhood, it can also be addressed as an adult

Person vacuuming around living room
April 17, 2024/Eye Care
5 Tips for Coping With Geographic Atrophy

Preserving your social life and protecting your mental health are key to living well with vision loss

Person holding up sunglasses
April 16, 2024/Eye Care
9 Tips for Living Well With Geographic Atrophy

Start low-vision rehabilitation as soon as possible and see your retina specialist at least every six months

Colorblind glasses showing houses on shoreline in color
April 11, 2024/Eye Care
What We Know About Color Blind Glasses

These trendy glasses might brighten some shades and help you see the difference between colors or brightness of hues, but they won’t cure your color vision deficiency

Person with pink eye
March 22, 2024/Eye Care
Here’s How To Get Rid of Pink Eye Fast

Eye drops and cold water rinses can help speed up healing for viral and allergen-related conjunctivitis, but a bacterial infection will need antibiotics

Eye doctor holding glasses and a prescription
March 20, 2024/Eye Care
Got a New Eye Prescription? Here’s What It Means

Your eye prescription reveals a lot about your eye health, including how they’re shaped, how well you see and what your new glasses can do for your sight

person holding wearing glasses, holding cell phone and rubbing their eye
March 18, 2024/Eye Care
The Dangers of Rubbing Itchy Eyes

From scratching your cornea and tearing your retina to introducing allergens and causing infections, pawing at your peepers just doesn’t pay off

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims