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What is Blue Light and Should I Be Worried?

July 14, 2020 | By Dr. Katherine Harkins

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Blue light and the negative effects it has on your body

In today’s world, our waking hours are dominated by screen time. Think about it. Your alarm goes off, and after snoozing it a few times, you grab your phone, check your email, and flip through the news headlines. Finally, you get up, shower and get ready for your workday, where you spend eight or more hours in front of your computer screen. Your day is filled with zoom meetings and internet research, and during your breaks, you catch up on social media and check-in with your family via text or video chat. Finally, your workday ends. You watch some TV to relax, maybe do an Instagram Live workout if you’re up for it. Then you settle in for your nightly social media review. Finally, you get into bed, read a book on your e-reader, and try to go to sleep. 

But you can’t sleep! Your shoulders feel achy and you have tension around your eyes, which also feel a little sore and itchy. And even though you’re exhausted from the day, you just can’t fall asleep. What you’re noticing is in part due to the negative effects of blue light on the eyes and your body. 

So what is blue light? 

Blue light is part of the visible light spectrum that has short wavelengths and high energy. And it just so happens that LED screens like your computer, phone, TV, and some fluorescent lights have peak emissions in that blue range. Blue light is also emitted from the sun at even higher levels of emission. Blue light isn’t necessarily bad. But when you look at the time we spend on screens and the proximity to that light source, it is worth considering the effects those screens may have on our bodies. 

Is blue light permanently damaging? 

The good news is that studies so far have not shown that blue light can permanently damage ocular structures. The not-so-good news is that studies have shown that blue light can interfere with your sleep cycles and possibly contribute to fatigue and eye strain. Researchers have found that exposure to light, especially blue light, triggers the brain to feel more alert and awake. It also affects melatonin release, which we know is important for sleep. People who wear glasses that lessen the amount of blue light entering their eyes report longer and higher quality sleep. Starting your workday off after a good night’s sleep is so important. So it is recommended to put your devices away two to three hours before bed and to wear glasses with anti-blue features when using these devices. 

Do I need blue light filtering glasses? 

Studies have shown mixed results on the benefits of these glasses for preventing digital eye strain and fatigue, so there is no hard and fast rule here. Anecdotally, I find that many patients who come in with symptoms of fatigue and strain with screen use often report benefits from these special specs, whereas patients who don’t have any issues working on screens may not observe significant benefits to the way their eyes feel. Personally, I have a blue filter in my glasses, and I will have it in all my glasses going forward. There are no down-sides to having the blue filter, and there is significant potential for feeling better when using them regularly.

What are the next steps? 

If you’re considering getting glasses to help with your long days on a screen, you can’t forget about your prescription. We don’t make you sit awkwardly picking ones or twos for nothing--those numbers are important! Most people benefit from using their prescription while on their devices, even if that prescription is very small. Our brain doesn’t like blurry or ghosting images, and while you may feel fine if you’re not doing anything too visually demanding, if you’re looking at print or fine details on a computer all day, you want those images to be crisp. 

Once you have your proper prescription, you should also consider lens design. Depending on your age, focusing ability, and workspace setup, the type of lenses that are best for you may vary. Some people may do great with single vision lenses, while others do better with a progressive. Did you know there are progressive lenses designed specifically for the office space to maximize computer and near vision? Your eye doctor and optician will help you figure out what lenses are best for you. If you have a recent prescription, getting you set up with the best lenses for your work is something we can do over a video chat. So book an appointment, and let’s figure this out together! 

Want to purchase your own pair of blue blocker glasses? check out our selection.

About Dr. Katherine Harkins

Dr. Katherine Harkins grew up in a small town in Wisconsin and attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she earned her BS in Biology. She was drawn to the East Coast to attend optometry school at The New England College of Optometry in Boston and fell in love with the city. After earning her Doctorate in Optometry, she spent the next several years in private practice where she enjoyed caring for patients of all ages, providing comprehensive eye care in both English and Spanish.

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