Are blue light glasses really protecting you?

For many of us, phone screens are the first thing we look at when we wake up and the last thing we see before we go to bed. We all know the fatigue of spending long hours looking at a screen. Research shows that screen time can cause eye strain, dry eyes, headaches and disruptions to your sleep schedule.

Unfortunately, we can’t always prevent large amounts of time spent on screens. Instead, we must find ways to help our bodies adapt to the modern days of digital devices.

To help with this, eye care companies invented blue light glasses. These handy and sometimes fashionable accessories rose in popularity in the early 2000s. By the era of COVID and work-from-home, they became a staple in many Washingtonians’ office setups.

But do they really protect us? Not in the way you might think.

Blue light glasses filter out wavelengths from the sun which help our bodies determine when to be awake versus when to be asleep. Being on your device before bed can trick your brain into thinking it is daytime which can disrupt your sleep. Wearing blue-blocking glasses an hour or two before bed can help protect your sleep cycle.

But are blue-blocking lenses needed during the day as well? It may surprise you that the discomfort many of us experience from screen time during the day is actually caused by eye strain, induced by a lack of blinking (which happens commonly when looking at a screen) and not by blue light.

When we stare during a concentrated task, such as working on our computer, studies have shown that our blink rate drastically decreases. This leads to early tear film evaporation and a dry surface. It may not feel dry though. Sometimes the main symptoms are the feeling of eye strain, tired eyes, heavy eyes and blurry vision. In other words, staring is to blame, not blue light.

Here are some tips to address the root cause of eye strain:

Follow the 20-20-20 rule; every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Adjust your office setup. Sit about an arm’s length away from your computer.

Find what makes your eyes comfortable. Adjust your room lighting and the contrast settings on your computer.

Utilize artificial tears when your eyes feel extra dry.

If you wear contacts, switch to regular glasses for a bit to give your eyes a break.

Blue-blocking glasses may be helpful to you when you are on your digital device before bed, but during the day the real problem is how our eyes interact with the screens we use day-in and day-out. By following the above steps, Washingtonians can protect their eyes from the digital era.

Francis Estalilla is a practicing ophthalmologist in Aberdeen and has more than 32 years of experience in the medical field.