Smartphone users temporarily blinded after looking at screen in bed

An article published in The New England Journal of Medicine has warned that looking at your smartphone while lying in bed at night could trigger a temporary loss of vision. The symptoms can often be mistaken for a mini-stroke, but experts at Moorfields Eye Hospital have noticed the symptoms, which usually last around 15 minutes, can be the result of looking at a screen in bed.

The study looked at two patients who attended the neuro-ophthalmology clinic at Moorfields Eye Hospital after experiencing recurring episodes of temporary vision loss. Mr Gordan Plant, consultant neurologist at Moorfields, reviewed both patients and asked them to record their symptoms. A detailed investigation revealed that symptoms occurred in one eye after several minutes of viewing a smartphone screen in the dark, while lying in bed.

Mr Plant explained that both patients typically looked at their smartphones with only one eye while resting on their side in bed in the dark — their other eye was covered by the pillow. While one eye adapts to the dark, the other gets used to the light of the device. When you open both eyes, the one that has been staring at the screen cannot cope with the darkness and can experience temporary perceived blindness.

The study concludes that temporary blindness was ultimately harmless, and easily avoidable, if people stuck to looking at their smartphones with both eyes. 

Press contact: George Allen - 020 7566 2628

Notes to editors

  • Moorfields is one of the leading providers of eye health services in the UK and a world-class centre of excellence for ophthalmic research and education. Our main focus is the treatment and care of NHS patients with a wide range of eye problems, from common complaints to rare conditions that require treatment not available elsewhere in the UK. Our unique patient case-mix and the number of people we treat mean that our clinicians have expertise in discrete ophthalmic sub-specialties.
  • In 2014/15 we saw more than half a million patients in our outpatient services and carried out almost 40,000 surgical procedures, making Moorfields the largest ophthalmic provider in the UK. We also provided care to 96,000 patients in our A&E department.
  • We treat people in 32 locations in and around London enabling us to provide expert treatment closer to patients’ homes. We also operate commercial divisions that provide care to private patients in both London and the Middle East.  
  • Moorfields’ innovative approach to delivering care across multiple satellite sites has been explicitly referenced in recent national policy. The Five Year Forward View highlighted the benefits of our model in helping to sustain local hospital services and enable smaller hospitals to remain viable. The Dalton Review categorised our approach as a contractual arrangement which it described as a service-level chain. More recently, the Moorfields@ model has been cited as an example of franchising or networked care. Terminology will be important as we seek to describe the models that could be replicated across the NHS. In this value proposition we use the term ‘networked care’ to describe the generic model of collaboration between providers and the term ‘satellite model’ to describe the approach currently delivered by Moorfields.
  • With our academic partners at the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology, Moorfields is recognised as a leading centre of excellence in eye and vision research. Together we form one of the largest ophthalmic research sites in the world, with the largest patient population in Europe or the USA. We publish more scientific papers than any other eye and vision research site and have an extensive joint research portfolio.

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