Let’s shed some light on blue-light lenses

Expert insights on the popular glasses

Woman at computer

By Monica Malecha, MD, ophthalmologist at The Portland Clinic.

Do you need blue-light glasses to protect your eyes from digital eye strain? I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about these heavily advertised glasses, so allow me to shed a little light on the subject.

American adults today spend most of their waking hours staring at computers, tablets, phones and TV screens. As screen time has increased, so has the number of people suffering from eye strain. Marketers of the new blue-light glasses claim that their lenses will protect you from eye strain and damage by blocking the blue light emitted by digital screens. But is blue light really the problem, and do these lenses really protect your eyes?

Probably not, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

Digital screens do emit blue light, but they’re not the only source of blue light, or even the largest source. Natural sunlight exposes you to far more blue light than your computer or phone, and the fluorescent and LED lightbulbs in your home and workplace send out blue light, as well. The eye strain connected with screen time is more likely caused by focusing up close without breaks and forgetting to blink – problems that can be solved with a few simple preventive measures.

Five effective ways to avoid eye strain:
  • Blink more often. A normal blink rate of 15 to 17 times per minute prevents dry eyes; we tend to blink only half as often when we’re looking at a screen.
  • If dry eyes persist, use artificial tears.
  • Take breaks from screen time.
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, focus on something at least 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.
  • Enlarge the type on your screen to avoid straining to read.
What about claims that blue light causes eye damage?

While some in vitro lab studies (not performed on humans or animals) have linked blue-light exposure to retinal damage, other studies have not confirmed these findings. More well-designed studies are needed to establish a link, if any. Until then, the U.S. National Eye Institute has taken no formal position regarding blue light, and the AAO does not recommend any special eyewear for computer use.

On the other hand, there is one type of light that clearly does cause serious eye problems, and that’s ultraviolet light. If you’re going to invest in protective glasses, your best bet is a pair of sunglasses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.

One surprising benefit of blue-light lenses:

During the day, blue light plays a useful role in helping us stay awake and alert by suppressing the production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Blue light exposure at night, however, can disrupt sleep. That’s why doctors often recommend limiting screen time before bed. If you have chronic sleep problems, and you like to watch TV or read on a tablet before bed, then wearing blue-light glasses in the evening could help you sleep better.

Thank you for investing some of your screen time today in this. I hope that you blinked several times and learned something helpful in the process.

From eye exams to eye surgery, Dr. Malecha diagnoses and treats the full range of eye problems in patients of all ages at The Portland Clinic.