In today’s digital age, we’re surrounded by screens at home, work and school. We know the blue light emitted by these ubiquitous smartphones and computers can disrupt our circadian rhythm and impact sleep quality. But can it lead to other eye conditions? And are blue-light-blocking glasses a valid treatment or just the latest trend?
Before you start worrying about your eye health — or spending money on blue light glasses — it’s important to learn the basics about blue light.
Light comes from many natural and artificial sources, including the sun, fire and lightbulbs. Each type of visible light has a different color, based on the light’s wavelength and frequency. For example, the sun emits white light, while certain lasers and bulbs produce red light. And digital screens — including computers, smartphones, tablets and TVs — generate blue light.
However, the amount of blue light emitted by screens is tiny compared to the amount we’re exposed to from the sun every day.
Blue light glasses are also known as blue-light-blocking or blue light filter glasses. They are eyeglasses that claim to block or filter high-energy blue light, in order to reduce the symptoms of digital eye strain, improve sleep and prevent eye diseases. Some ads for blue light glasses would have you believe that blue light causes a range of maladies, from dry eyes to headaches and macular degeneration.
These glasses may be effective at filtering out blue light, but there’s no reason to believe blue light causes any of these conditions in the first place, says Scripps Clinic ophthalmologist Ray Gariano, MD.
“There’s no evidence that blue-light-protective glasses augment the mechanisms the eye already has to protect itself from blue light, or that they provide any benefit as far as macular degeneration goes,” Dr. Gariano says. “There’s no harm in wearing them, but don’t use them with the assumption they’re protecting you.”
Dr. Gariano says people tend to blink less when concentrating, so the eyes can become dry when doing computer work or staring at screens. If your eyes are dry or strained, take breaks.
Experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Other remedies include artificial tears and matte screen filters that reduce glare.
For general eye protection outdoors, sunglasses still reign supreme. If they filter blue light, that’s fine. Just make sure they also filter UVB rays, the most common cause of skin cancer around the eyelid, Dr. Gariano says.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.