There have been a lot of claims about blue light glasses. Proponents say that blue blockers can improve sleep quality, reduce eye strain from digital screens, and even cure headaches. So let’s separate fact from fiction. We’re about to investigate the science of blue light glasses to discover whether they actually help.
Additionally, we’ll spend a good portion of this article taking a serious look at blue light. Is it actually harmful? And if so, do blue light glasses work to address it?
Do Blue Light Glasses Work? The Short Answer
The short answer to whether blue light glasses work is – maybe, if you get a good pair.
If you’re simply looking to block blue light and don’t suffer from migraine attacks or hyper light sensitivity, then a good quality pair of blue light glasses may be of some help. Felix Gray, for example, is one of the more reputable brands.
However, you need to be careful where you buy blue light glasses, because many brands don’t block much blue light at all. At best, most are inconsistent in the light they actually filter.
If you want to block blue light because you’re concerned about digital eye strain, then you’re probably better off to save your money and give your eyes frequent breaks from screen time.
For people who are light sensitive or get migraine headaches, then light sensitivity glasses — which are completely different from blue blockers — are a better option. If you want to know why all of this is true, keep reading.
What Is Blue Light and Where Does It Come From?
The sun is a natural source of blue light. As for artificial blue light, sources include fluorescent lighting, LED lighting, and digital screen devices like computers and smartphones. You see, visible light comes in a spectrum of wavelengths. Each wavelength has its own energy level, and blue light actually has the highest energy of any wavelength on the visible spectrum.
Because of that, blue light has the potential to impact your eye health more than other types of visible light. Digital screens of all kinds — computers, smartphones, televisions, tablets — emit lots of this high-energy blue light.
But Is Blue Light Harmful?
Because of all that blue light, it makes logical sense that spending a lot of time on digital devices could potentially lead to eye strain, which causes symptoms like discomfort, blurred vision, headache, and dry eye. Your eye care professional may even recommend cutting back on blue light.
However, studies into the potential harm caused by blue light haven’t been too conclusive. Research is ongoing, but there have been mixed results thus far.
If you suffer migraine attacks and are trying to determine if blue light filter glasses work for migraine or light sensitivity, you can find out here.
Blue Light and In Vitro Injury to Ocular Surface Cells
A 2019 in vitro study (meaning the study was conducted in an artificial environment, not done on actual people), researchers concluded that blue light injured human ocular surface cells, and that a shade could protect those cells. But this recommendation was theoretical, as living human beings were not used in the study.
Blue Light and Cataracts
In 2020, a study of rats revealed a correlation between increased blue light exposure and development of cataracts. But as you know, people — with a handful of exceptions — are not rats.
The Experts Weigh In on Blue Light
While the American Academy of Ophthalmology recognizes digital eye strain, it stops short of asserting that blue light causes eye damage or adversely affects eye health. 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 may be contributing to your eye strain. To put it plainly, your discomfort probably isn’t caused by the blue light itself, but by effects like decreased blinking.
Passing symptoms of eye strain aside, the big unanswered question is this:
Does blue light actually damage your eyes?
No, blue light will not damage your eyes. While it’s often asserted online and in the media that it does, there is no evidence to support this claim.
The Bigger Issue of Eye Strain
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. Digital eye strain is also known as computer vision syndrome, or CVS.
VisionCenter.org estimates that 90% of people who use digital devices experience symptoms of digital eye strain, including:
- Pain in the shoulders, back, or neck
- Trouble focusing between near and far
- Discomfort or strain in the eyes
- Difficulty keeping eyes open
- Increased light sensitivity
- Trouble concentrating
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Reduced blinking
- 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 or computer vision syndrome are usually temporary, and will soon subside when you stop using your devices. Sometimes, it’s possible for symptoms to continue for a while after that.
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 pupils tend to contract and become strained. On the other hand, pupils 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 Are Blue Light Glasses?
So if we aren’t sure that blue light actually damages your eyes, what does that say about the effectiveness of blue light glasses?
Blue light blocking glasses are a type of vision eyewear made with special lenses designed to filter out blue light but let other types of light through. They are not harmful or bad for your eyes, but how do they work?
Blue light glasses work by shielding your eyes from high-energy blue wavelengths, reducing any potential for eye strain from prolonged exposure for those who are sensitive. Generally, the purpose of blue light glasses is to reduce digital eye strain and improve sleep quality.
Now that you know what blue light glasses are, let’s talk about whether they actually work.
What the Science Says About Blue Light Glasses
Research released in February of 2021 indicates that blue light lenses may have no effect at relieving digital 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.
Blue Light Glasses and Sleep Quality
While The American Academy of Ophthalmology doesn’t state that blue light is damaging to the eyes, there are many people who say wearing blue blockers in the evenings helps them sleep better.
Maybe it has to do with circadian rhythm or simply reducing harsh stimuli before heading for bed. Whatever the reason, some data seems to suggest that blue light blocking lenses may have sleep-related benefits in some people. But let’s take a closer look at those studies.
Blue Blockers Improved Sleep Quality in Bipolar Patients
A 2020 study randomized 20 hospitalized bipolar patients in a manic state, with some wearing clear glasses and others wearing blue blocking glasses for 7 days. During that time, their motor activity, sleep, and wakefulness patterns were monitored. After 5 nights, the blue blocker group experienced significantly better sleep efficiency and less wakefulness after getting to sleep.
These findings suggest that blue blocking glasses may help hospitalized manic patients sleep better. However, the sample size of the study was small, and no baseline data was gathered before the study.
Blue Blockers Helped Athletes Fall Asleep Faster
In a 2019 study, 15 healthy athletes were instructed to wear either blue blocking or transparent glasses for 3 hours before going to bed. Their sleep was monitored for 9 nights in a row, and they were given a set of guidelines to follow for their nighttime routine.
While blocking the short-wavelength blue light was “mainly effective” in shortening the time it took them to get to sleep, there was no impact on total sleep time or wakefulness after they got to sleep.
Blue Light May Be Detrimental to Melatonin in Healthy Adults
In 2011, a small study of a handful of healthy adults measured nighttime melatonin levels under varying conditions. The conditions included 2 hours of being blindfolded, then 90 minutes of exposure to various irradiance blue LED lamps, white fluorescent lamps, and followed by 90 minutes of additional blindfold time. In this study, melatonin concentration was found to be suppressed significantly with some blue light irradiances. However, actual sleep quality was not assessed.
The evidence that blue light significantly suppresses melatonin levels could mean that in theory, wearing blue blockers may help you sleep better at night. However, that doesn’t mean you should rely on them to prevent eye strain, especially when there are other reliable ways to do this.
In 2019, another study of blue light filtering glasses provided subjectively better sleep when worn in the evening, but researchers couldn’t verify this with objective measurements of sleep parameters.
How to Protect Your Eyes From ALL Potentially Harmful Light
If you're experiencing headaches, eye strain, or dryness, then blue light glasses won’t help much. For some people, these symptoms are due to photophobia, or abnormal light sensitivity. If you’re one of those people, you actually need light sensitivity glasses that filter more than blue light. Light sensitivity glasses come with lenses designed to help people manage the impact of all harmful light, and that includes much more than blue.
Why Wear Light Sensitivity Glasses?
Blue light is the 'talk of the town' and we can thank generic blue light glasses companies for that. Because it’s become a popular topic, people are willing to pay for blue blockers or blue light filtering coatings on their glasses. But they aren’t necessarily getting the benefits they’re looking for. Why? Because blue light isn’t the only problem.
The reality is, for people with migraine and light sensitivity, amber and red light are just as problematic as blue light. In addition to that, green light can actually be soothing. Studies have shown this is the case.
For example, a 2016 Harvard study put patients into a dark room during a migraine attack and exposed them to varying colors of light. They found that during an attack, white (which encompasses all light waves), blue, amber, and red light all increased the intensity of migraine headache pain. However, a narrow band of green light was found to be soothing.
While this study shows why people with migraine would want to reduce their exposure to blue light, it doesn’t say anything about eye damage or even eye strain, and only looked at migraine patients.
Glasses from Axon Optics come with the Avulux® Migraine and Light Sensitivity Lens. This lens is patented, and is the only lens clinically proven for people with migraine and light sensitivity. It works by absorbing up to 97% of the most harmful blue, amber, and red light while allowing over 70% of the soothing green light through. They’re available in prescription and non-prescription and are good for indoor or outdoor use.
The Avulux lens — a precision optical filter — proved its efficacy in an independent, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. This research of the highest scientific standard has shown that Avulux lenses have both clinical and statistical significance when compared to placebo in wearers with episodic migraine. This is a first for optical lenses designed for migraine light sensitivity.
So there you have it. If you're sensitive to light, Avulux lenses are a much better choice than blue light blocking glasses. If you’re not particularly light sensitive but want to reduce your chances of developing eye strain, then there are some simple ways to lower your risk. Here are three.
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.
Summing It All Up
If you want to reduce blue light exposure, a quality pair of blue light glasses could work for that. But they are no substitute for regular eye care, and won’t be effective if you wish to reduce digital eye strain. To reduce digital eye strain, you should practice good habits, take frequent breaks, and wear glasses with lenses designed for light sensitivity and migraine.
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