and an alert about fluorescent lamps for the eyes of children
The victims of the current macular degeneration epidemic
were the first generation
As I learned about the immediate danger to unprotected preemie eyes from the strong blue and violet components of fluorescent light described in baby-blinding lights, I realized that older children might also be vulnerable to these same retina- damaging wavelengths, though in a different way and with a much longer latency period.
The confused reaction of the preemie's retinal vessels to the excess irradiation is due to their early stage of development. Once this stage is past, normal light exposure does no longer affect the growth of these vessels and causes no retinal detachment.
However, the harsh components of the fluorescent lamp spectrum might cause a slowly accumulating and long delayed harm to the eyes of older children which are also still very transparent to these most damaging wavelengths.
As we age, our lens yellows from its cumulative exposure to light, just as varnish does, and for the same reason. This yellowing is very gradual and offers us an effective protection only from about our late teen years or early twenties on. Until then, the harmful blue-violet irradiation from fluorescent lamps can penetrate unhindered to our retinae.
Although that radiation can no longer affect the growth of the blood vessels in our eyes, it may partly use up the renewal capacity of the photoreceptors in the retina on which our vision depends.
An impairment of this renewal capacity can lead to macular degeneration, a rapidly spreading epidemic of blinding among older people who lose their sight now much earlier than in past decades. This macular degeneration has often been linked to the lifelong accumulation of debris from light-damaged photoreceptors in the retina of those affected. Exposure to retina- damaging light is likely to accelerate this accumulation, and to do so in proportion to how much of that light reaches the retina.
It may therefore be significant that the people who are now losing their sight much sooner than in the past are the first generation who spent their school years under the then new fluorescent lamps.
There is so far no "scientific proof" of this proposed link between the age-related blinding and the early unprotected exposure to retina- damaging light. However, the available circumstantial evidence indicates that this exposure blinds not only preemies but could possibly also contribute much to the long-term damage which causes the current epidemic of blinding at the other end of the age spectrum.
The medical approach to risk is to continue a potentially damaging exposure until its harm is conclusively proven with large- scale controlled studies and statistical near- certainty. The common- sense approach, on the other hand, would be to protect children during their vulnerable years from needless exposure to that suspected risk until the safety of that exposure is fully proven.
It seems therefore safer to not keep school children under fluorescent lamps while their eyes are most vulnerable to damage from that harsh light. Or can you blindly trust in the never established long-term safety of that unnatural irradiation which is well known to damage retinae, and bet the future of your child's eyes on that alleged and hoped-for safety?
For a more detailed discussion of this epidemic, continue here to the relevant page of my letter to the National Bioethics Advisory Commission where I try to alert its Chairman to the possibility of this danger.
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