We live so much of our lives online. Nearly everything in our day-to-day is digitized, from work and shopping to news and even our social lives. We spend all day on our computers, tablets, and smartphones without hesitation, but do we ever stop to think whether staring at digital screens all day could be harming our eyes?
Doctors have attributed symptoms like eye strain, headaches, and eye fatigue to computer vision syndrome. Others believe that the blue light emitted from our devices is damaging our eyes, and that a special pair of blue light glasses are the solution to the problem. But what exactly are blue light glasses? And are they scientifically proven to work?
What Is Blue Light?
The screens we use every day—like our smartphones and tablets—emit blue light, which is the short-wave blue light within the spectrum of colors visible to the human eye. It’s the only light that passes through your eye’s cornea and all the way to your retina. The blue portion of the spectrum lies between 400-500 nanometers, and it’s supposedly the peak light that occurs around 440 nanometers that some claim is so damaging.
However, this claim has yet to be scientifically proven by ophthalmologists and other scientists. In fact, any symptoms you think might be attributed to blue light—like headaches, dry eyes, tired eyes, blurred vision, or insomnia—are actually caused by digital eye strain. Other things can lead to eye strain as well, such as a room that’s too bright or not bright enough, warm air blowing on your face, and even poor posture that causes your back and neck to hurt, and in turn, your eyes.
The only thing that scientists actually have on blue light so far is that it can negatively impact your sleep cycle, circadian rhythm, and morning alertness. This is why you always hear doctors telling you to turn off your devices a couple of hours before bed, and why you often see settings on devices for Night Mode, which can minimize blue light exposure.
It’s also worth noting that smartphones and laptops are not the only places where blue light is found. It’s found in many places, including in sunlight or in certain light bulbs (such as fluorescent ones). Any study claiming that blue light is exclusively found in digital devices and that it therefore damages eyes is, at best, inconclusive.
What Are Blue Light Glasses, and Do You Need Them?
Blue light-blocking glasses (sometimes called computer glasses or gaming glasses) are similar to sunglasses in that they are designed to reduce discomfort to the eye from light. But rather than protecting your eyes from bright, high-energy, visible light, they just filter out the blue light that is supposedly so damaging.
Although eye damage caused by blue light has yet to be scientifically proven, many eyeglass manufacturers state that it’s real and that their products can help you. While it’s entirely possible for the claim to gain scientific credibility at some point in the future, scientists and ophthalmologists have already run tests and failed to find conclusive support for it. At this stage, blue light glasses seem more like another problem invented by those claiming to have the solution for it, available for a cost (looking at you, big pharma).
Plenty of eyeglass manufacturers, from GUNNAR to Warby Parker, make a variety of blue light glasses. Some have strong filters that make the lenses look yellow or orange, while others look just like a regular pair of glasses. They are pretty inexpensive and readily available if you want to try out a pair for yourself.
In fact, it’s entirely possible that anyone using blue light glasses might experience some relief from them. They aren’t a magical cure-all for eye strain, but if you feel like they can help you, you’re free to use them. However, if your eyes continue to hurt after staring at your computer or phone all day, there are other things you can do to mitigate eye strain…
Alternatives to Blue Light Glasses
The easiest way to protect your eyes from eye strain is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you spend staring at a phone or computer screen, look away at something that’s at least 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds. Your mind will appreciate the quick break, and your eyes will feel less tired and strained at the end of the day. You can easily set a timer to remind you to take a break.
Along the same lines, you can also limit the amount of time you use digital devices each day. So, instead of doomscrolling on Twitter from the moment you clock out to the moment you fall asleep, try putting the phone down an hour or two before bed and doing another activity, like reading (you know, an actual book), going for a walk, or playing a board game.
You can also use artificial tears (think: Visine) and a humidifier to help your eyes remain more comfortable throughout the day, and be sure to double-check that the room you’re in is properly lit. If you have prescription glasses or contacts, make sure you wear those each day and go in for regular eye exams to ensure that your prescription hasn’t changed.
However, if you are feeling more intense eye discomfort, we highly recommend that you visit an optometrist and take some time away from screens until you feel better.