By Breanna Callahan, Marketing Coordinator
Blue light is a buzzword right now used by eyeglass retailers. Since it is approaching back-to-school time, and many attending school will be attending virtually, I see many advertisements for blue light reducing glasses. These ads portray blue light as harmful and indicate it hurts your eyes. And of course, the special lens costs more. I decided to talk with Dr. Nicole Klein, Southwest Health Optometrist, and get the low-down on caring for our eyes during this time of increased screen usage by us and our children and find out if we should be investing in special lenses.
What is blue light?
Blue light is a type of high energy light ray. The most significant source of blue light is the sun. When we are indoors, it is given off to a lesser degree by screens (computer, tablet, and phone) and fluorescent lighting.
Is blue light harmful for my eyes?
Blue light itself isn’t harmful. The effects of blue light on the eye tissues are still being researched. While we know that too much exposure to ultraviolet light can exacerbate eye diseases such as cataracts and macular degeneration, the verdict is still out if blue light can also cause these conditions.
Blue light makes you more awake and alert in general. So, when you are “winding down” at night, scrolling through your phone, the blue light can actually make it harder for you to relax and fall asleep because it disrupts your natural circadian rhythm.
Should only adults be concerned with blue light?
No, according to preventblindness.org, children’s eyes absorb more blue light from screens than adult’s eyes.
Then why do my eyes feel so uncomfortable after being on my computer or phone?
We have been slowly increasing our screen time over the past few years, and then with the pandemic, we are using screens even more. Whether you are working from home or your children are attending school virtually, screens can be used for around eight hours, which can irritate our eyes.
A common condition occurring is what we call digital eye strain. You may find after you’ve been looking at your computer for a while your eyes feel tired, burn, get itchy and you might even have headaches.
Digital eye strain is not necessarily caused directly from blue light. If that were the case we would experience the same strain after being outside on a sunny day (since the largest source of blue light is the sun). Instead it is more likely the fact that we are not blinking the eyes as much, about 50 percent less, when looking at screens.
So, if I (or my kids) wear glasses, I should probably buy blue light blocking lenses?
“There have not been any recent studies to promote the use of blue light lenses for digital eye strain. Many people are looking for easy solutions right now, with their increased use of devices and screens but blue light glasses are not the answer.” Dr. Klein explained. The American Academy of Ophthalmology indicates that, “it’s not necessary to spend money on special [eyewear] for computer use.” However, if you are worried about my children being on devices later at night and having poor sleep, blue light blocking lenses could be helpful for this issue.
If special lenses aren’t the answer for eye irritation due to increased screen time, what is?
Dr. Klein said she recommends:
- Regular eye exams to make the eyeglass prescription is current and there are no other underlying eye conditions worsening the strain.
- 20/20/20 rule: Take a break from looking at screens every 20 minutes. During your break, look 20 feet away and blink for 20 seconds.
- Keep your eyes feeling more comfortable by using over-the-counter lubricating eye drops.
- Don’t use screens right before bed. If you do, and your device has a “night mode” turn that on, as it reduces the amount of blue light given off.
- Recognize if you want to try the blue light lenses they are not harmful, certainly OK to try, and could be like chicken soup when you have a cold, where it makes you feel better without a clear cut reason why.
Is there anything special we should do for our kids who are attending school virtually, and therefore increasing their screen time?
Dr. Klein recommends all of the steps listed above for kids too as well as a few extra considerations.
- You might need to set a timer for your child so they know when to take a break.
- Something you might not think of for kids, and adults alike, is to make sure you are practicing good ergonomics. This means making sure you are sitting properly to prevent poor posture, which can also increase headaches and cause eye strain.
- Because they probably don’t know how to do it themselves (and won’t think of it), make sure the brightness on their screen is comfortable-bright enough for them to see but not too bright, and the room they are in is properly lit. If they are sitting in a dark room, the American Academy of Ophthalmology explains, their pupils will dilate even though the screen in front of them is super bright, and that can irritate the eyes.
So, save yourself the money on buying special lenses, but do be aware that screen time can cause eye discomfort. If you are feeling discomfort, make an appointment at one of our three conveniently-located Eye Centers, located in Platteville at Southwest Health, Darlington, and Lancaster. Visit eyecenter2020.org for more information.