There is growing awareness of the risks that blue light exposure can pose — particularly how the blue light emitted by the screens of our electronic devices can affect our health. This awareness has resulted in the increased popularity of blue light glasses. Also known as blue light-blocking glasses or computer glasses, these glasses are advertised to limit the amounts of blue light that reach the wearer’s eyes, cutting down on the dangers associated with blue light exposure. But are these special glasses truly effective and worth the cost?
The dangers of blue light exposure
Prolonged exposure to blue light contributes to eye strain. “Blue light is part of the visual noise coming from your computer screen, handheld video device or phone,” New York-based optometrist Dr. Fran Reinstein told Zocdoc. “These high-energy light waves can cause headaches and eye fatigue.”
Exposure to blue light increases the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss. Blue light also plays a role in regulating our circadian rhythms, the body’s natural wakefulness and sleep cycle. Excessive blue light exposure late at night can disrupt this cycle, possibly causing sleeplessness at night and fatigue during the day.
The sun is our primary source of blue light, but the growing amount of time we spend staring at our device screens during the day is of concern to optometrists and healthcare professionals, especially as long-term effects of blue light on eye health are still unknown.
What blue light glasses do
Wearing blue light glasses limits the amount of blue light your eyes are exposed to and absorb. Typically, blue light lenses have a special coating that reflects blue light.
“They have filters that reduce the amount of blue light reaching your eye,” Reinstein says. “They reduce eye fatigue, headaches and blurred vision — all of which are associated with computer vision stress. People who use them have much less eye strain.”
“I typically recommend the blue light blocking as part of the anti-glare coating for prescription lenses,” Reinstein says. “And there are non-prescription blue light glasses, as well.”
If you’re considering purchasing a pair of glasses with blue light blocking, make sure they’re manufactured by a reputable lens company. “The major eye glasses makers – Hoya, Zeiss, Essilor — have the coatings and filters. The coating should cost about $100. We order coatings that have a 0.05% reflection rate. If you’re paying in the $30-40 range, it’s unlikely to be the best coating. Over-the-counter glasses makers may be trying to rip people off.”
Check with your insurance company or HR department to see if they will pay or reimburse you for glasses or the coating.
How to combat screen fatigue
Regardless of whether you decide to purchase blue light glasses or not, you should practice good eye hygiene to avoid and reduce screen fatigue.
“Blue light glasses are not the end-all be-all,” Reinstein says. “If you’re spending 12-14 hours a day in front of a screen, they won’t fix [screen fatigue]. You need to do other things to reduce stress.”
Here’s how to manage screen time:
Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second rest break and direct your vision to a point 20 feet away. “Your eyes have muscles,” Reinstein says. “If you were to carry 10-pound weights around all day, your arm muscles would fatigue. By looking at a screen 18-20 inches from your face all day long, you’re asking your eyes to flex without breaks. Your eyes will strain. And at the end of the day, you’re going to temporarily lose distance vision.”
Looking 20 feet into the distance releases your eye muscles. “You can feel your eyes relax,” Reinstein says.
Keep your eyes moist: If your eyes are becoming dry, use artificial tears eye drops.
Sit at least 25 inches from your computer, and make sure your gaze is slightly down: “Your natural gaze is focused down and in,” Reinstein says. “When you look up, your eyes go out a bit — it’s not as comfortable.”
Increase your screen’s contrast in display settings: “Increased contrast is more comfortable for your eyes,” Reinstein says. “You may also want to decrease the brightness.”
Schedule regular eye exams: A comprehensive eye exam includes a check for computer eye strain. “You may need a pair of reading glasses for office work,” Reinstein says. “[Optometrists] test how your eyes focus and relax at a computer work distance.”
If you’re experiencing eye strain, dry eyes or headaches, see an optometrist as soon as you can, especially if you use a computer a lot. Otherwise, schedule your eye exams annually.