Can Christmas lights hurt your eyes or damage your retina?

One of the most popular holiday traditions is hanging up lights around the house and the classic tree. It can be a pleasant sight to see and a real display of creativity in a community. However, there have been concerns over the years as to how these lights can impact your eye health. Is this a myth, or can a favorite holiday custom really hurt your eyes?

How do our eyes respond to lights?

To understand how holiday lights can affect your eyes, it’s important to consider how your eyes react to light in general. As light reflects off of objects, these rays pass through the cornea (the eye’s clear outer layer) and are bent before moving through the pupil. From there, the light rays go through the clear structure of the lens to the retina where they are processed by the optic nerve.

Why do bright lights hurt our eyes?

The process mentioned above works well with normal levels of light. Bright lights, however, can cause contraction of your iris muscles and eye pain due to overstimulation. While ordinary light does not damage your retina under normal conditions, permanent damage can occur in minutes if the lights are significantly bright or contain UV radiation (like staring directly into the sun), but other times it is more gradual with constant exposure. Thankfully, most commercially available lightbulbs do not emit damaging radiation, but prolonged exposure can lead to eye strain and fatigue.

Can holiday lights be damaging to your eyes?

As people look for more energy-efficient methods of lighting, LED lights have seen an increase in usage, especially with holiday lights due to how long they are used in the evening. With that said, are they harmful to your eyesight? Given the number of weeks these lights are used along with how long the average person would be exposed, the answer is no, but there are a few caveats.

Blue holiday lights have been said to cause the most eye strain out of the multitude of colors available. This is because blue light moves around more easily than other lights, which can make it hard for the eyes to focus. People with light sensitivity (photophobia) are also more prone to negative reactions to LED lights and can range from squinting to migraines. Dr. Omar Punjabi, a CEENTA ophthalmologist at our SouthPark, Concord, and Matthews locations, concurs and offers advice. "While exposure to holiday lights is usually safe, prolonged exposure to bright lights can lead to eye strain and fatigue. However, directly gazing at broad spectrum light sources such as looking at the sun can be dangerous and lead to permanent vision damage. If your eyes are extremely light sensitive or you develop any concerning symptoms like eye pain or vision loss, please call your ophthalmologist immediately."

If you find yourself squinting at holiday lights, during a sunny day, or even while scrolling through your phone, you might be showing symptoms of photophobia. This can be caused by a multitude of ophthalmic diseases. In order to determine the cause and find the right solution, it’s important to have a detailed eye examination. Board-certified and fellowship-trained ophthalmologists across CEENTA’s multiple offices can diagnose and manage your eye problems due to eye strain and many other eye diseases. Schedule your next eye appointment with Dr. Punjabi at our SouthPark, Concord, or Matthews location today, who say, "On behalf of the physicians and staff at CEENTA, we wish you a Happy Holiday and a safe, healthy and joyous New Year." 

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. New patients can make appointments online with our eye doctors in North and South Carolina. Current patients can also make appointments through myCEENTAchart with physicians they have already seen.


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