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Do blue light glasses actually work?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, sales of blue light glasses skyrocketed as people spent more time using digital devices. Manufacturers say these glasses can improve your sleep, reduce eye strain and prevent eye and retinal damage. But are they really effective? Pratik Thaker, M.D., a Piedmont family medicine physician, weighs in.

What is blue light?

What is blue light and how can it affect your health? While blue light is emitted from digital devices like smartphones, computers and televisions, the most significant source of blue light comes from the sun. Dr. Thaker says we should be much more concerned about the blue light coming from the sun than from electronic devices.

“Overexposure to sunlight can cause eye disease, but the small amount of light from digital devices has not been shown to cause harm,” says Dr. Thaker. “I recommend always wearing sunglasses when you’re outside.”

Blue light can also suppress the body’s production of melatonin (a sleep-promoting hormone), which is why it’s essential to put digital devices away an hour before bedtime.

Should you wear blue light glasses?

“The companies that manufacture blue light glasses say that staring at screens can cause eye or retinal damage, but there is no research backing this up,” explains Dr. Thaker. “The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that you don’t need them, and it doesn’t recommend any special eyewear for computer users.”

When people experience benefits from wearing blue light glasses, it could be more psychological, like a placebo effect, he adds.

“If I put a patient on a blood pressure pill, most patients will get a response and that’s why we know it works,” says Dr. Thaker. “But not everyone is going to get a response from wearing blue light glasses.”

That said, there aren’t any significant downsides to wearing blue light glasses. They won’t cause any side effects, but the benefits vary from person to person.

“Do your research,” he says. “Don’t believe everything you read on social media. Just because everyone is buying something doesn’t mean it works for everyone. If you decide to try blue light glasses and they help you, they help you. But you don’t need to spend extra money on them.”

How can electronics affect your eyes? 

“If you experience symptoms like eye strain or dry eye from using digital devices, it’s because of how you’re using the devices, not the blue light they emit,” says Dr. Thaker. “Using your devices too much, not blinking when looking at the screen, not having a proper distance from the device and not using a screen filter or antiglare screen can cause issues.”

Here are some tips to protect your eyesight during screen time:

  • Adjust your seat or position your computer so your eyes are about 25 inches from the screen.

  • Position the screen so you’re gazing slightly downward.

  • Use a matte screen filter to reduce glare.

  • Use artificial tears if your eyes feel dry.

  • Look at the lighting in your room and consider increasing the screen contrast.

  • Follow the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

  • Wear your eyeglasses or contact lenses as prescribed. Not using the proper prescription can lead to eye strain.

  • Decrease your screen time when possible.

  • Avoid electronic devices an hour before bed. Studies have shown that the light they emit can decrease melatonin production, which can disrupt your sleep.

  • Reduce the brightness on your screens and put them in night mode when possible.

When to see a doctor for vision problems

Dr. Thaker says you should see your health care provider if you experience any of the following recurrent symptoms:

You should also seek care if you try the tips above and your symptoms don’t improve.

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