Among the fads to emerge from the pandemic − sourdough bread making, TikTok dancing, sweatpants tie-dying − wearing blue light glasses to cope with increased screen exposure remains popular.
As our lives move increasingly online, the number of minutes a day we spend staring at laptops, phones, and tablets has skyrocketed. In response, many have taken to donning a pair of lenses specifically designed to block out the blue light emitted from our screens.
But are they really effective? And how damaging is the blue light anyway? Here’s what experts had to say.
Do blue light glasses really work?
“They mostly don’t work for the things that they’re advertised for,” Dr. Craig See, an ophthalmologist with the Cleveland Clinic says. Blue light glasses are largely marketed as a solution to eye strain and as a protectant for the retina.
Their effectiveness is not backed up by the science, however. While they are successful in blocking blue light, blue light is not necessarily something that needs to be filtered out for ocular health.
“At this point in time there’s really not enough science or evidence to support or deny the benefits of disease-causing problems with blue light,” Dr. Ronald Benner, President of the American Optometric Association says. He calls studies on the subject “contradictory and inconclusive.”
Blue light, which is low-wavelength and high energy, does behave differently on the eye, Dr. See says, and in large doses can cause harm to the retina. However, as Dr. Benner points out, screens are not a unique example of blue light exposure. Indirect sunlight by itself produces 25 times the blue light a typical screen does, and direct sunlight produces 250 times as much.
That said, blue light can suppress our natural melatonin production, making it hard to sleep if there is increased screen exposure at night. So while the glasses will not protect you from long-term retina damage, and may not safeguard against eye strain, they can be a useful tool for screen use in the evenings.
How do blue light glasses work?
Blue light glasses work by reflecting the light waves coming in so they bounce off the surface. There’s a coating or filter on the lens that reflects the wavelength or “blue” spectrum of light so that it is prevented from coming through.
What are the benefits or negatives of blue light glasses?
One potential benefit could be better sleep. High energy blue light, when it hits the retina, stimulates cells in the brain, essentially turning them on, Dr. Brenner explains. “In the evening times having the blue light filter on and blocking that so that we’re not suppressing the melatonin production might be a beneficial aspect,” he says.
That’s a concern that could also be addressed by limiting exposure. Both Dr. Brenner and See advise shutting off screens before bed.
As for the negatives, Dr. Brenner says there is “probably very little direct harm,” but reminds us that “we’re not sure about the benefits yet.”
Using blue light glasses as ‘computer glasses’
If your eyes are struggling with prolonged contact with screens, there may be another answer/
“The thought is not so much that screens start to bother our eyes because of the blue light, what is much more likely is that the eyes get dry,” Dr. See says. When we are focused on something, we stop blinking so much, and our eyes get dry, creating strain.
He recommends the 20-20-20 rule as a remedy: Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for about 20 seconds to give your eyes a break. “Eye muscles are fatigued just like leg muscles are fatigued,” Dr. Benner reminds.
Some blue light glasses do have a +1 prescription on their lens which helps with up-close focus, Dr. See says, “that part may be helping.”
Do blue light glasses help with headaches?
Like with other purported benefits to the frames, there is not enough evidence to strongly confirm this claim.
“If you’re getting headaches while staring at screens the first thing I would recommend is people seek out their local optometrist to get their eyes checked,” Dr. Brenner advises. It may be that you’re experiencing a focusing issue or an uncorrected astigmatism.
Blue-blocking lenses may help with fatigue, he says, and anti-glare filters can do the same, but a persistent problem should be addressed with a doctor.
Is it OK to wear blue light glasses every day?
There is no evidence to suggest that blue light glasses are doing harm so wearing them every day will not likely be a detriment to your health.
That said, if you experience headaches or other bothersome symptoms related to your sight, your first stop should be the optometrist’s office.
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a condition in which a small part of the back of the eye that focuses on facial recognition and reading is damaged and vision becomes greatly inhibited. That part of the eye has a very specific design, and if it is altered vision can become significantly impaired.
Smoking is a big factor in macular degeneration, Dr. Benner says, but blue light is more of a question mark. While it could increase macular degeneration and cataract development, “the studies have been inconclusive and basically contradictory at times,” he explains.
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