Are Blue Light Filtering Glasses Beneficial?

Author: Premier Eye Associates

Blue Light and the Eyes

Today, one of the most recent hot-trends in the world of eyecare are blue light filtering glasses—but why? Are these lenses actually helpful?

The jury is still out on whether or not these lenses should be recommended to individuals who have high amounts of screen time, but ultimately the choice is up to the consumer. This article is aimed to help you understand blue light, and therefore blue light filters, to determine if adding blue-light filters to your glasses would be beneficial for you.


What is Blue Light?

To best understand what blue light is, we will quickly discuss how vision works.

The foundation of vision is based on the wavelengths of light given off by a particular object. These can range from invisible low-frequency wavelengths like radio waves or infrared technology, to invisible high-frequency wavelengths like UV light, X-Rays, and gamma-rays.

Somewhere in the middle of invisible low-frequency waves and invisible high-frequency waves are what is deemed “visible light”. Any wavelength that falls within this portion of the spectrum can be detected by the human eye and interpreted as an image.

As stated above, visible light is a chunk of a very large scale of wavelengths and frequencies. It is quite complicated so we will leave it at that for now. The range we as humans can see is between about 380-750 nanometers.

Blue light is on the very edge of the spectrum of visible light, right in-between what we can see and UV light—which is well known for being harmful to the body in high amounts. It is released from electronics such as computers, TVs, tablets, cell phones, etc. Basically, anything that has an electronic screen gives off blue light!


Why is Blue Light Bad?

To date, researchers are not entirely sure blue light is bad. However, due to the nature of blue light being so close to UV light, many hypothesize that too much exposure to blue light could result in serious problems down the road.

The dilemma is that increased screen time is a problem of the 21st century. It is a new technology that we have not yet lived to see the full scope of harm, or benefits, it may have. In reality, the era of smart phones, tablets, and everyone using computers regularly really did not start to pick up speed until 2007—only 14 years ago!

14 years is not a lot of time to research how constant use of electronic devices can impact the body, let alone the eyes.

As a fun fact, the human eye has historically been developed for good distance focus—we did start out as hunters and gatherers afterall! In today’s world, we are undergoing what is called the “myopia epidemic”. Myopia, or nearsightedness, occurs when the eye is too strong—resulting in good vision up close but poor vision far away. Researchers currently think the rise is myopia is due to our society’s switch from being primarily outdoors (from the beginning of existence until about the 1950s-1960s), to our more recent focus on education and near work (reading, writing, working on computers, and other near tasks).

If society changing from being outdoors and focusing on objects far away in the 1950s, to prioritizing near work in the early 1990s/2000s has caused humans eyes to be formed incorrectly (causing a drastic increase in the need for glasses), just think about what the increase in direct absorption of blue light in the eyes could do to eye health in another few decades. It is a little scary!

This, of course is not to say that blue light will cause major problems down the road, but the fact of the matter is we just do not know what it will do to the health of our eyes yet.

What is currently understood for certain is that blue light is fairly similar to UV light. We know UV light in small doses does not typically cause issues, but in high doses it is known to cause problems like poor development, breakdown of human cells, and even cancer (this is why we wear sunscreen outside, to protect our skin from UV light!).

If UV light can cause such terrible problems to the skin, what can its’ brother—blue light—do to our eyes if it is absorbed in high doses, like using a computer or cellphone 4-6 hours a day, every day?


Blue Light and the Eyes

While we do not have exact information about what blue light does to the eyes, there are some current ideas of possible future problems researchers are watching for with increased blue light exposure. Here is a list of some of the major worries:


Blue Light and Increased Eyestrain

Just like spending a day in the sun makes you tired and fatigued, spending an extended period of time focusing on electronics can make your eyes tired and fatigued. The eyes have many properties to defend themselves against harmful substances like UV light, but they can only handle so much.

In particular, the eye does not have a super strong defense against blue light. Therefore, its’ defense against blue is a little weaker than other wavelengths of light and will wear out quickly leaving your eyes feeling strained and tired.

Eyestrain as a result of using electronics is not entirely the result of blue light, of course. Near work also forces your eyes to accommodate to keep the image up close clear. In order to do so, the eye has to activate certain muscles and keep them tight and in control to maintain clear vision. The longer you focus up close, the more tired your eyes will become.

It also does not help that when looking at near objects and electronic screens we blink less. This is a proven fact—we actually focus so hard on what we are doing we literally forget to blink! Therefore, utilizing artificial tears and making a conscious effort to blink more frequently can actually help to reduce some eye irritation with extended near work.


Blue Light Early Onset Cataracts

As we’ve been chatting about, blue light shares several characteristics with UV light. High exposure to UV light has been known to speed up the process of cataract development, therefore it is not a large jump to assume high exposure to blue light will do the same.

A proven fact is that the lens of the eye (the part that is affected by cataracts) is responsible for absorbing blue light and even a little UV light. The more it is forced to absorb, the more likely it is to have a malfunction and the cells of the lens to begin to break down. The breaking down of cells in the lens is literally the cause of cataracts, so it would certainly be possible that increasing the amount of blue light absorbed by the eye could result in cataracts happening earlier in life (30s-40s) rather than waiting to appear later in life (60s-70s).


Increased Risk of Macular Degeneration

The macula of the eye (the part that is affected in macular degeneration) is the part that is responsible for our “20/20 Vision”. If you were to picture the back of the eye—the retina—looking like a bullseye, the macula would be the very center ring, and is thus essentially the most important part of our visual system.

Macular degeneration is a disease in which the macula starts to break down, typically due to an accumulation of unwanted byproducts in the macula’s tissue. Macular degeneration results in irreversible (i.e. permanent) changes to the macula, decreasing your vision over time. This damage cannot be corrected by glasses or contacts, and therefore results in permanent, uncorrectable vision loss.

Just as discussed with the possibility of blue light causing cataracts to develop earlier in life from increased exposure to blue light damaging cells of the lens, blue light could potentially do the same to the macula. If too much blue light reaches the macula and causes the cells of the macula to breakdown or die, the macula will degenerate. This, of course, has yet to be proven, but it has also yet to be dis-proven.


Blue Light and Disruption of Circadian Rhythm/Disturbed Sleep Cycles

This is the one aspect of blue light that has been proven with certainty. The body regulates when to sleep and when to be awake based on a hormone called melatonin. When the body releases melatonin, it tells itself to go to sleep. Therefore, during the night/dark hours of the day you will have high levels of melatonin, whereas during the day/bright hours of the day you will have low levels of melatonin.

The body releases melatonin based upon whether or not the eyes detect light. When light is detected, the eyes send a message to the brain to tell it not to release melatonin. When light is not detected, the eyes send a message to the brain to tell it to release melatonin and go to sleep.

Using electronics that emit blue light, or really just light in general, messes with the cycle as the eyes are detecting light and telling the brain it is time to be awake and at full alert. Therefore, using electronics before bed not only makes it more difficult to fall asleep, but also decreases the quality of sleep, as the brain is not “shutting off” and resting as it should.


What Should I Do—to Buy Blue Light Filters or Not?

Now that you know the potential harm of increased exposure to blue light, you can better understand why blue light filters in glasses are becoming so popular. Blue light filters do exactly what their names imply—filter out (or block) the blue light emitted from electronic screens from reaching your eyes.

Blue light filters are essentially a special coating added to your glasses that absorb blue light wavelengths and reflect it back out into the world, away from your eyes. There are several different companies who manufacturer blue light filtering coatings that can be put onto your glasses as they are made in the lab for a small fee.

The one caveat with these coatings is that they cannot be put on to an existing lens—they must be put into the lens as it is made and is a part of the lens, not just a sticker stuck on top. If you are interested in getting a blue light filtering lens coating, be sure to talk to your eye doctor or optician when purchasing a new set of glasses lenses.

Ultimately, though, the choice is up to you. There is not yet enough evidence to say one way or another if blue light filtering glasses are beneficial or not. It may be better to be safe than sorryespeciallyif you use electronics for more than 4-6 hours a day. This suggestion is particularly true for children, as the eyes’ defense to blue light is weaker in children—it actually is not completely developed until around the age of 18!

As always, your eye doctor is here to help and would love to discuss this topic further with you to better assess your own personal situation, needs, and to provide other recommendations if you do not think blue light glasses are the best choice for you.

Dr. Anthony Spina and the staff of Premier Eye Associates specialize in glasses, soft contact lenses, hard contact lenses, and medical eye exams. Call our eye doctor in Auburn, AL today at (334) 539-5391 or schedule an appointment online  if you are interested in obtaining blue light filtering glasses.  Our optometrist provides only the highest quality eye care services amongst eye doctors in the Auburn Alabama area.

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