Harmful Blue Light
Whether it’s scrolling on social media, watching videos, or writing a report for work or school, most of us spend a lot of time staring at screens. But even though our phones, tablets, and computers make our lives more convenient (and entertaining), the blue light that electronic devices emit may be bad for our eyes. Read on to learn more about blue light and how you can best protect your eyes from possible harmful effects.
What is Blue Light?
Sunlight is made up of a spectrum of lights – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. When combined, they become the white light we see. Each color has a different energy and wavelength. On the red end of the spectrum, lights have longer wavelengths but less energy. Lights on the other end of the spectrum – where blue light resides – have shorter wavelengths and more energy. It’s blue light’s high energy that gives it the potential to cause more harm than other lower-energy lights.
The largest source of blue light is the sun, but other sources include fluorescent lights, and LED lights and screens, such as those on televisions, computer monitors, tablets, and smartphones. It’s true that the blue light emitted from electronic devices is small compared to sunlight, but the amount of time we spend looking at them, coupled with how close we are to the screen, causes concern about the long-term effect of exposure.
The Effects of Blue Light on the Eyes
Although more research is needed to determine if blue light exposure increases the risk of eye diseases, some studies show that over time it may cause damage to the retina and lead to macular degeneration. Many experts do agree, though, that digital eye strain – also referred to as computer vision syndrome – from blue light is a real and serious problem and can cause sleep disruption.
Blue light can decrease contrast, which, along with bad lighting, can lead to digital eye strain. Symptoms of digital eye strain include dry, irritated eyes and sometimes even blurry vision. Screen time at night can disrupt circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock), sending a signal to the brain that it’s time to wake up, when in fact, it’s time to slow down. Blue light can stop the release of the sleep hormone melatonin and lead to poor sleep.
How to Protect the Eyes from Blue Light
There are many steps we can take to protect our eyes from potential harmful effects of blue light. To start, reducing the amount of time spent in front of a screen and taking frequent “eye breaks” can decrease digital eye strain. Children’s eyes don’t filter blue light as well as adults, so it’s especially important to limit the time little ones spend in front of a screen. Powering down devices at least one hour before bedtime can also help, especially when it comes to sleeping better.
Blue light-blocking screen protectors for smartphones, tablets, and computer screens may help to decrease the amount of blue light the devices emit. They contain a special coating that filters out some of the blue light and prevents it from reaching the eyes.
Many people find that blue light-blocking computer glasses help to ease digital eye strain. They are available without a prescription for those who don’t need glasses or contact lenses. For those who wear corrective lenses, prescription glasses and contact lenses are available with blue light filters. When it comes to protecting the eyes outdoors, wearing sunglasses is a must. Many sunglass brands protect against both UV light and blue light.
Certain intraocular lenses (IOLs) that replace the natural lens of the eye during cataract surgery also help protect the eye from blue light. Most modern IOLs reduce transmission of UV light, and some contain a blue light filter. A qualified cataract surgeon can offer advice about the best IOL option.
Given the amount of time we spend staring at screens, taking precautions to protect our eyes from the possible harmful effects of blue light is a good idea.