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Whether you’re working, texting with loved ones, watching TV or reading the news, you likely spend several hours daily looking at electronic screens. Screens are a part of modern life, but experts have warned that staring at them too frequently can negatively impact your health. That’s where eyeglasses that block the blue light emitted by electronic devices come in. But do they work? New research suggests they may not (more on that later!). So we asked eye doctors and researchers if the blue light glasses benefits we keep hearing about are actually true. Read on for their take!
What exactly is blue light?
Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum. “It’s emitted at a wavelength of 450 nanometers, in comparison to ultraviolet light (UVA) which is around 400 nanometers,” explains Brad Boyle, OD, an optometrist at Advanced Family Eye Care in Waterloo, Iowa. “The shorter the wavelength, the more energy emitted. And, the more energy emitted, the more eye damage that can be done.” What’s more, blue light penetrates the cornea, reaching the retina, where it can cause dry eye, cataracts and more.
Blue light is all around us. It’s even emitted by the sun. But it’s also produced by screens, explains ophthalmologist Saya Nagori, MD, CEO of EyeFacts. “With modern tech consumption, our eyes are being exposed to copious amounts of blue light every day, and this can have harmful implications.”
Indeed, our exposure to blue light is higher than ever. During the pandemic, screen time increased dramatically — research shows that even non-heavy users logged 30 hours of screen time a week. What’s more, according to research conducted by Vision Direct, the average adult will spend 34 years of their life staring at screens.
That’s a problem, since excessive screen time has been linked to dry eye, blurred vision and eye fatigue. As a result, many people are turning to products that might help, like blue light-blocking glasses.
The benefits of blue light
But you can’t avoid blue light altogether, nor would you want to. “Blue light is actually good for you,” says Dr. Boyle. “In terms of evolution, it tells your body that it’s time to be awake, have energy and be productive.”
However, the potential risk comes from excessive blue light exposure. Because electronic screens are so ubiquitous, “more blue light is entering our eyes than ever before,” explains Dr. Boyle. “This blue light can cause eye strain, cataracts and macular degeneration. It’s the energy emitted from blue light that causes this damage.” (Click through to our sister site for tips on how to prevent macular degeneration.)
What are blue light glasses?
Blue light glasses, also known as blue light blockers, are designed to filter out blue light emitted by electronic screens to reduce eye strain and prevent potential vision damage from blue light waves. People wear them while using screens and often before bed to improve sleep.
Dr. Boyle says that most blue light glasses block 30% to 40% of the blue light emitted by electronic screens — and there are contact lenses that can block even more. Some scientists theorize that by limiting blue light exposure it’s possible to prevent computer vision syndrome, a condition marked by symptoms like headaches, eye fatigue and dry eye after spending lots of time on devices. (Click through to see how maqui berry extract can ease dry eye.)
New study sheds doubt on blue light glasses benefits
Now, people are talking about a review of 17 randomized controlled trials published in Cochrane Library, showing that blue light glasses aren’t that effective at easing eyestrain or fatigue or improving sleep. “We found there may be no short-term advantages with using blue-light filtering spectacle lenses to reduce eye strain associated with computer use, compared to non-blue-light filtering lenses,” says study author Laura Downie, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, in a press release. “It is also currently unclear whether these lenses affect vision quality or sleep-related outcomes, and no conclusions could be drawn about any potential effects on retinal health in the longer term.” Her bottom line? “People should be aware of these findings when deciding whether to purchase these spectacle lenses.”
What eye doctors say about the blue light glasses benefits
The results of this study don’t mean that blue light glasses won’t benefit you, counsels Dr. Nagori and Dr. Boyle. “Blue light glasses can still provide a level of protection, just perhaps not as much as once claimed,” says Dr. Nagori. “I highly recommend getting blue light glasses if you’re outdoors in the sunlight all day or if you find yourself straining to look at a phone or computer screen throughout the day.”
Adds Dr. Boyle, “In regards to blue light glasses not being effective, consider that the typical blue light glasses can block 40% of blue light at the maximum. I think if we were able to block 100% of blue light we would see different results in studies like this one. I don’t think blue light glasses have much effect on cataracts or macular degeneration, but as far as sleep and eye strain are concerned, I absolutely think that people can get positive results wearing blue light protection.” What’s more, he says, “I have many patients tell me they get headaches on the computer. Then, we get them on blue light glasses and the headaches go away.”
The best blue-light blockers
If you’re thinking about getting blue light glasses or contact lenses, experts recommend seeing your eye doctor. He or she can do an eye exam, review your symptoms and make personalized recommendations. But if you’ve had a recent checkup and know your prescription, you can buy blue light glasses and contact lenses online.
Before you buy blue light glasses or contact lenses, take some time to do your research. “I recommend making sure that the percentage of blue light blocked is labeled,” says Dr. Boyle. “Shoot for 30% to 40%. Some places claim that only yellow-tinted lenses have blue light blocking capabilities, but this isn’t the case.”
Here, some options that might work for you:
If you have contacts: Consider Acuvue Oasys Max
To block blue light and glare: Ask for Crizal Prevencia
“Blue light blocking technology for eyeglasses is typically a lens treatment. A high-quality antireflective treatment that also blocks blue light is Crizal Prevencia,” says Dr. Boyle. The glasses, which eye doctors can prescribe, start at about $129. “We recommend this for our patients who regularly use electronic screens. The lenses have a purple hue, and the treatment is very effective and durable.”
To block blue light on a budget: Look for Gaoye
There are also more budget-friendly brands with blue light-blocking lens treatments, including those from Gaoye (Buy from Amazon, $9.99 for a 3-pack), which boast more than 32,000 4.5-star reviews and are the best-selling blue light glasses on the site.
More ways to protect your eyes
Whether you opt for blue light glasses or not, these simple strategies can help protect your eyes from screen-related problems:
1. Try the 20-20-20 rule
“My tip, even over blue light glasses, is to take frequent breaks using the 20-20-20 rule,” says Dr. Boyle. The 20-20-20 rule encourages electronics users to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet in the distance or farther away. For example, if you work at home, stand up from your desk and look out into your backyard.
Dr. Boyle says this simple practice reduces strain and helps reset your eyes so they can focus. Indeed, when researchers from Aston University in the UK measured eyestrain symptoms before and after subjects used the 20-20-20 rule while working on a computer, they found that the breaks helped subjects maintain normal levels of blinking to keep eyes lubricated, preventing discomfort.
2. Take blink breaks
Blinking re-wets eyes to ward off dryness, but many of us miss out on this simple protective strategy — especially when we’re staring at a screen. In fact, in an Ohio State University study, when people focused on a computer screen, the number of times they blinked dropped in half. And the less often they blinked, the more their eyes ached or burned. That’s why experts commonly recommend taking “blink breaks” every 15 minutes. But when we’re busy, pausing to blink just isn’t top of mind. What can help: Download the free browser extension Blink Alert, which reminds you to take regular blink breaks.
3. Optimize your lighting
Bright lamps and overhead lights cause glare on electronic screens, which can strain and irritate your eyes further. When using a computer or tablet, try turning the lights off or closing the blinds. You might also want to buy an anti-glare cover for your screen. SightPro’s 14-inch computer monitor anti-glare protector is a top seller (Buy from Amazon, $28.99).
4. Adjust your screen settings
Your eyes need to work harder to focus when looking at electronic screens. Simply adjusting your screen settings can make a big difference. For example, try increasing the font size if you do lots of reading. Likewise, play around with the screen’s brightness and color contrast until looking at the screen is comfortable for you.
Also smart: downloading apps for your computer and phone that lower emissions (like f.lux.), says Cindy Geyer, MD, a functional medicine physician at The UltraWellness Center, “You also have the option to change settings on your smartphone and computer to ‘night mode’ or ‘night shift.’ This easy switch prompts your device to use warmer tones, which reduces the amount of blue light it gives off. And despite the name, you can set these filters to be on 24/7.”
5. Get more lutein and zeaxanthin
“A healthy diet, including natural or supplemental zeaxanthin and lutein, not smoking and limiting alcohol, can help protect your eyes against more serious problems, like macular degeneration and cataracts,” Dr. Boyle says. “I’m skeptical about blue light glasses preventing these conditions. I don’t want people to think there is a quick fix when the major things are harder to do — eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle.”
The nutrients lutein and zeaxanthin act as a nutritional “shield” to protect eyes. Explains James Stringham, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at MacuHealth, who has conducted multiple studies on vision, “When consumed, they travel directly to your eyes and cover the center of the retina, essentially canceling out blue light.” In his studies, people who boosted their intake of these nutrients had a significant reduction in screen-related symptoms. You can get the benefits by eating leafy greens (like spinach and kale), basil, parsley and eggs — top sources of the nutrients. Prefer to supplement? Twinlab Ocuguard Blutein Protection (Buy on Amazon, $12.64 for 60 capsules) contains the studied blend. Click through for more ways to get these eye-healthy nutrients.
“It will be interesting to see where our kids’ and grandkids’ eyes are in 30 years. They will be the ones that show us if we are right or wrong in protecting against blue light,” says Dr. Boyle. “Either way, wearing blue light-blocking glasses won’t hurt and for many people, they help!”
Click through these stories for more on vision protection.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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