Think of all the screens your eyes come across every day: Your smartphone. Your computer at work. Your tablet at home. The GPS system in your car. Digital billboards on the highway. The television after a long day. Although they are all very different from one another, they all have one thing in common: blue light.
You may have even read reports or seen ads for tinted eyeglasses that claim to filter out this harmful light, helping you avoid everything from dry eyes and headaches to eye damage and insomnia. We spoke to Karen Saland, M.D., ophthalmologist and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Dallas, to get a clear vision on what blue light is, if it’s really damaging our eyes, and if these glasses are worth the splurge.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), blue light describes the faint hue of the light that is emitted by many of the electronic devices we use regularly. In recent years, the popularity of blue light–blocking eyeglasses has risen as technology has become more robust in our day-to-day lives, but the AAO says there is no scientific evidence that blue light can cause damage to your eye.
Although Saland says the eye does not have specific protection to filter out blue light, she agrees with the AAO.
“Blue light is everywhere, from outdoors to the emission from television and cell phones that people use every day,” she says. “The problem is the eye doesn’t have adequate protection against blue light. In fact, almost all of the light entering the eye projects to the retina. The current literature shows that blue light can be harmful to specific cells in vitro, but more research is necessary to show the effects of long-time blue light exposure on the eye.”
Saland adds that while more research needs to be done to determine the effect of both natural and man-made blue light on the retina, many eye care providers are still concerned that the added exposure might increase macular degeneration and cataract formation later in life, which is why many still suggest specialized eyewear to their patients.
“Computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain) is a well-documented issue that includes a variety of symptoms such as eye irritation, fatigue, headaches and blurry vision, but the use of a precise computer prescription can reduce strain on the eyes,” she explains. “Since many times this is a prescription that people use to buy glasses for use when working on computers, I would recommend adding the blue light coating on the lens as a potential added benefit.”
Saland recommends utilizing the “20/20/20 rule” to help limit eye strain or dryness if you use a computer or device constantly.
“Every 20 minutes take a break and look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows your eyes to relax,” she says. “Also when you stare at a screen, often you do not blink enough leading your eyes to dry out. So give your eyes a break every once in a while by either taking a break or using ophthalmologist-approved artificial tears.”
The jury may still be out on whether or not blue light damages your eyes, but Saland says there is proof that blue light does affect our circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle.
“Blue light plays a key role in waking us up and getting us going. It shouldn’t surprise you then, to learn that the largest source of blue light is the sun and that blue light makes up about a third of all visible light,” she explains. “Therefore, too much blue light exposure late at night from your phone, tablet or computer can make it harder to fall asleep. I would recommend that people who are on their phones, computers or tablets at night consider blue light glasses to prevent issues with insomnia.”
Limiting the amount of time you are on electronic devices, particularly in the evening leading up to bedtime, can help avoid sleep disturbances. Additionally, many devices have blue light filters or nighttime settings that automatically limit the blue light emitted based on the time of day.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to commit to a pair of blue light–blocking glasses, Saland says the decision is truly up to you until more research is done proving that blue light can cause eye damage.
“We don’t know yet with 100 percent certainty the long- or even short-term dangers of the blue light from screens. But we do know that there are harmful effects from certain high-energy lights, and it is possible that blue light will eventually be shown to be harmful,” she says. “Therefore, if someone is considering these lenses, they can elect to get them; in the very worst case the lens will do nothing, but at best, they could prevent eye damage.”
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