Are you nearsighted? No need to feel bad if you are, you’re in good company… now. Decades ago, glasses weren’t cool, and most people had reasonably good vision. All that’s changed in recent times. Myopia is a growing problem, affecting a greater percentage of the population every year. Recent research suggests that by 2050, five billion people worldwide – half the global population – will suffer from myopia and a fifth of those may ultimately become blind as a result.
Long ago, genetics was the primary reason for myopia. Today, lifestyle is suspected to be the leading cause of myopia: people choose not to spend much time outdoors anymore, and they focus their eyes on close-up work (computer screens, cellphones, televisions) for long periods of time. never giving their eye muscles a chance to relax and focus on far-away objects. Too much screen time probably comes as no surprise to you. But what’s this about not enough time outdoors? Turns out, we’ve learned that in order for children’s eyes to properly develop, a certain amount of exposure to sunlight every day is necessary. Our modern world has both young and old spending more and more time indoors, staring at screens, with little to no sunlight. It’s no wonder myopia is becoming a global human problem.
When sunlight enters a child’s eye, it activates a neurotransmitter called retinal dopamine – crucial to eye development. This is key: the exact wavelength of light that activates retinal dopamine is 480 nanometers. One technological solution is to install specialized lighting indoors where children are likely to spend time: at school and at home. Wearing prismatic lenses or taking eyedrops are other options. Another possible solution has been under development at a small firm called Betterlab. They’ve created a pair of eyeglass frames (without any actual lenses) that emit 480 nanometer light just above each eye. A photoluminescent pigment designed to absorb light and use that absorbed energy to glow is mixed into the resin the frames are made of. The company claims that exposing the frames to one minute of sunlight or strong artificial light will cause the pigment to glow for at least 25 minutes. Wearing the frames twice a day for 25 minutes is all the user needs to activate retinal dopamine.
“Betterlab Myopia-Preventing Eyewear” (0:18)
Eyeglasses are popular, trendy, and hip now. People perceive those who wear glasses as smart. Plus, nerds and geeks are much cooler than they used to be. Personally I think I’d rather spend a half hour outside twice a day than wear glow-in-the-dark eyeglass frames. But that’s just me, wearing my über-geek glasses with real lenses, being cool. Or not.