Do blue light glasses work to protect your eyes from digital screens? The short answer is no, but not for the reason you might think. Blue light glasses don’t work because recent evidence suggests that blue light isn’t actually harmful. Rather, there are other factors that contribute to eye strain or discomfort. Click here to jump down to the research debunking the blue light glasses fad.
No matter how old you are, it makes common sense that spending a ton of time in front of a screen isn’t the best idea. Today, with the rampant rise in screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people became more aware of the blue light those screens emit and how it might affect the eyes.
Maybe your parents told you that watching too much TV would rot your brain or turn you into a couch potato. Well, rotten brains and couch-potato habits aside, let’s take a serious look at blue light. Could it be harmful? And if so, do blue light glasses work to address it?
What Is Blue Light?
Visible light comes in a spectrum of wavelengths. Each wavelength comes with its own energy level, and blue light actually has the highest energy of any wavelength.
Because of that, it has the potential to impact your eyes more than other types of visible light. And here’s the kicker: digital screens of all kinds — computers, smartphones, televisions, tablets — emit lots of blue light. Other common sources of blue light include the sun, fluorescent lighting, and LED lighting.
Is Blue Light Harmful?
According to a survey published by The Vision Council, close to 90% of Americans spend 2 hours or more each day using digital devices. And almost 60% of Americans use those devices for 5 or more hours daily. If you’ve felt like your eyes were bugging you after hours in front of a computer or other screen, you may have experienced digital eye strain.
65% of Americans report symptoms of digital eye strain, including:
- Pain in the shoulders, back, or neck
- Discomfort or strain in the eyes
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
- Dry eyes
- Eye fatigue
- Eye redness
- Itchy eyes
The severity of your symptoms will depend largely on how long you’ve been using the digital device. Underlying eye conditions will also have an effect, as will other factors such as glare on the screen from overhead lights.
Fortunately, the symptoms of digital eye strain are usually temporary, and will soon subside when you stop using your devices. Sometimes, it’s possible for symptoms to continue for a long time after that. However, whether blue light actually does any damage to your eyes is an interesting question, and we’re about to dig in.
What Are Blue Light Glasses?
So how do blue light glasses work in your favor? Blue light blocking glasses are just what they sound like. They’re glasses made with special blue light lenses designed to filter out blue light, but let other types of light through. The idea is to protect your eyes from the high-energy blue wavelengths, reducing the potential for eye damage from prolonged exposure.
Blue light glasses can be purchased from many online and brick-and-mortar stores. You may also specify that you want blue light lenses, which come with a special coating, when you order your regular eyeglasses.
Now that you know they’re easy to get, let’s talk about whether they actually help.
Blue Light Glasses: Hype or Effective Treatment?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes digital eye strain, but stops short of asserting that blue light causes eye damage. See the following excerpts from a 2021 article published on the AAO website:
“Long hours staring at digital screens leads to decreased blinking. Blinking less sometimes causes a series of temporary eye symptoms known as eye strain. But these effects are caused by how people use their screens, not by anything coming from the screens. The best way to avoid eye strain is to take breaks from the screen frequently.
“The American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend blue light-blocking glasses because of the lack of scientific evidence that blue light is damaging to the eyes.”
In short, there are other factors in play that contribute to the eye strain you’re experiencing. In other words, your discomfort probably isn’t caused by the blue light itself.
Other Factors Contributing to Digital Eye Strain
Pay attention to your eye movements the next time you’re using a computer or other digital device. You’ll probably notice that your eyes spend a lot of time shifting focus. Maybe you’re looking for a piece of code. You could be hunting in the virtual distance for the next zombie. Or maybe you’re scrolling social media posts for the ones that you actually want to read. That’s a lot of work for your eyes.
Adding to those demands is the glare caused by ambient lighting, or the contrast on your computer screen.
Plus, when your eyes are focused on something closer to you, like a screen, smartphone, or book, your eyes tend to contract and become strained. On the other hand, eyes tend to relax when looking at things further away.
Many factors — shifting focus, glare, contrast, infrequent blinking, and closeness — can easily lead to the symptoms of digital eye strain listed above. Sure, your eyes may be irritated after a long day on the computer, but that doesn’t mean blue light is the real culprit. Maybe you just need a break.
What the Science Says About Blue Light Glasses
Some people swear by blue light glasses for screen-related eye strain (also known as computer vision syndrome). If they help you, there is no harm in using blue blockers or even wearing them all day. But you should also understand that science doesn’t necessarily back up the claims many makers of blue light glasses are making.
Study Questions Effectiveness of Blue Blockers
Research released in February of 2021 indicates that blue light lenses may have no effect at all against eye strain symptoms. 120 eye-strain-symptomatic computer users were asked to complete a 2-hour computer task. Each person was randomly given either clear (placebo) glasses or blue blockers, but each was led to believe they were wearing blue blockers.
After 2 hours, there was no significant difference in the feedback given from each group. Even more telling is that there was no difference in the eye strain symptom score between the two groups. In short, the blue light glasses had no effect.
Add this study to the fact that blue light may not even be the real culprit for your digital eye strain, and there are serious doubts about the effectiveness of blue light blocking glasses.
Mixed Reviews and Ongoing Research
A 2017 study of 80 computer users found that after one month of using lenses coated with a blue blocking coating, one-third felt they received benefit. They claimed that the glasses improved vision and reduced glare while they used digital screens. It should be pointed out that this study was funded by a maker of blue light glasses.
Other studies are currently underway, like this one which intends to take a closer look at whether blue light lenses provide users with any definitive benefit. But at this point, research into blue blockers has returned mixed to lukewarm results.
How to Protect Your Eyes From Potentially Harmful Light
Some people experience eye strain, dryness, headaches, even nausea and other symptoms due to photophobia, or abnormal light sensitivity. For them, certain types of light (particularly blue) can lead to debilitating pain, migraine attacks, and major disruptions to normal life. If this sounds like you, blue light glasses probably won’t be much help. You need light sensitivity glasses specifically designed for people with photophobia.
Wear Light Sensitivity Glasses
Light sensitivity glasses made by Axon Optics have been shown to reduce symptoms of photophobia, such as migraine. Their precision-tinted lenses block only the specific wavelengths of light known to pose the most risk, letting the rest in. They’re available in prescription and non-prescription with indoor and outdoor lenses.
Axon Optics photophobia glasses, also called migraine glasses, have been studied extensively and shown effective against light sensitivity symptoms like migraine. In a clinically-validated HIT-6 (headache impact test) survey, here are just some of the results that were found.
- 87% experienced a decrease in headache impact
- 27% fewer headache days
- 39% decrease in light sensitivity impact
- 87% of users reported decreased light sensitivity
If your digital eye strain is due to photophobia, light sensitivity glasses are a much better choice than blue light blocking glasses. On that note, here’s an amusing but true story.
We recently heard from a customer asking about returning a pair of our glasses. She had ordered her daughter a pair late last year, which she wears all the time for her remote computer job. The glasses were so helpful that they ordered a spare pair a few months later.
After wearing the “second pair” of glasses several times, the daughter reported that they didn’t have any effect. Thinking they might be defective, her mom asked about a return. Later, however, she came back to report that the ineffective pair her daughter had tried were actually NOT Axon Optics glasses, but a pair of blue light blocking glasses they’d purchased before buying anything from Axon.
That’s a true story that illustrates the difference between light sensitivity glasses and blue blockers!
Take a Break, Would Ya?
As if you needed another excuse to catch a break, simply giving your eyes a few seconds of relief now and then can go a long way to reducing eye strain. Many experts recommend the 20-20-20 rule. That is, every 20 minutes, focus your eyes on something about 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It can relax your eyes and give them a much needed “time out.”
Use Artificial Tears
A little lubrication for your eyes can go a long way to preventing the dryness and irritation you might otherwise be dealing with.
As we talked about earlier, the close proximity of your screen to your eyes can be a contributing factor to eye strain. Try sitting further back from your computer. Aim for about 25 inches, or arm’s length. It might also help to position your chair or desk so you look slightly downward at your screen.
And like your parents probably cautioned you as a teenager, stop slouching! Neck, back, shoulder pain could be a result of poor posture. So stay upright and look at your screen with your eyes, not your head or neck. A periodic stretch and a few backward shoulder rolls might help, too.
When it comes to easing digital eye strain, the best thing you can do may be to practice good habits, take frequent breaks, and see your doctor if you feel you’re more sensitive to light than normal.