Those Blue-Light-Blocking Glasses Might Not Be As Effective As You Think
Being tethered to a screen all day isn't doing your eyes any favors, but blue light isn't necessarily the culprit.
It’s easy to see the appeal of blue-light-blocking glasses. For a relatively small price, the glasses tout instant benefits like nixing computer-induced headaches and protecting against blue light emitted by screens. Reviewers rave about their effectiveness. Although a lot of marketing materials claim a harmful connection between digital screens and the quality of our vision, the scientific evidence to support the relationship is decidedly mixed.
Danielle Trief, M.D. M.Sc. and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Columbia University Medical Center, directed me to the latest research on the subject from The American Academy of Ophthalmology. Despite all the negative attention blue light has received, the academy maintains that the blue light emitted by digital devices isn't damaging, and they don't recommend any special eyewear for computer use.
Related: 4 Ways Kids Can Benefit from Tech
Trief says that blue light isn't necessarily the reason for our scratchy, irritated eyes. We are really feeling the effect of reading more than ever—usually without taking breaks—which forces our eyes to focus on a single point from a single distance for an extended period of time. We also aren't blinking much, which causes our eyes to become dry and strained. "For people who are in front of a computer for a significant portion of the day and blink less, this phenomenon is real and debilitating," Trief says.
She explains that when we're young, our eye lenses are flexible and usually allow us to see distances without glasses. As we age, our lenses harden and we become more nearsighted (generally by age 40). It's happening earlier and more frequently too: Nearsightedness has nearly doubled in the United States since 1971.
So is there any value in blue-light-blocking glasses?
Before we write them off (and ignore the glowing anecdotal reviews), consider that some eye docs do encourage patients to wear the protective glasses during the day and to properly shield our eyes from the largest emitter of blue light—the sun. "It is important to note that blue-light damage is cumulative, exactly like UV radiation and skin cancer," says Ryan Parker, O.D., director of professional services at Essilor. "We should be protecting our eyes from high-energy blue light indoors and outdoors as much as possible."
Evidence also suggests that wearing blue-light-blocking eyewear before bed may help keep your circadian rhythm in sync, particularly if you like to unwind with a Netflix movie or a late-night TV show. A recent article from the Harvard Medical School says that at night, the stimulating blue light from digital devices can throw off our biological clocks. Wearing blue-light-filtering glasses two to three hours before bed may help prevent a disrupted sleep cycle.
Doctors do agree on one thing: Even if wearing blue-light-blocking computer glasses helps your eyes feel better, they aren't enough to protect your peepers from overuse. Experts recommend these effective strategies for relief.
Obey the 20-20-20 Rule
"When you don’t have glasses on hand, avoid tech-induced headaches by following the 20-20-20 rule," Parker says. "For every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away."
Supplement with Drops
Artificial tears can alleviate red, itchy, irritated eyes. They're fine to use up to four times a day, Trief says, but be warned: The preservatives in most artificial tears can actually cause more irritation over time. Preservative-free drops in single vials are a good alternative. For extreme cases of dry eye, a prescription eyedrop medication like Xiidra (single vials) can offer relief.
Be Mindful of Tech Use at Night
Blue-light-filtering glasses won't necessarily save you from eyestrain, but they filter out stimulating blue light while viewing digital devices before bedtime. You can also enable a Night Shift setting on your tablet or smartphone, which moves the display toward the warmer end of the color spectrum in the evening.