There’s no doubt our reliance on phones, tablets and computers will continue. But with this persistent exposure, is there a risk to our eyes? Is there anything that can be done to protect our vision?
Computer screens and other devices emit blue light, but the largest source of blue light is sunlight. Other sources include fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent light bulbs and LED lights.
“We just don’t know how much blue light is damaging,” says Dr. Amy Fitzgerald, a St. Joseph optometrist.
What we do know, she says, is that the sun’s blue light is 100 times brighter than digital devices. Too much exposure to ultraviolet sunlight increases the risk of eye diseases, including cataracts, growths on the eye and cancer. Less information is known about the potential long-term damage caused by blue light from the sun and electronics.
Some links have been made, however, between high-energy visible blue light to digital eye strain, light sensitivity and sleep problems, such as trouble getting to sleep and quality of sleep, Fitzgerald says.
This is because blue light can affect the body’s circadian rhythm, which is our natural wake and sleep cycle, according to the American Ophthalmology Association.
Many devices have a “night shift” setting that can be scheduled for a certain time before bed. With this setting, the screen’s normal bluish-white tone will turn warm. Fitzgerald doesn’t see anything wrong with using this function, but she has not found much research to support its effectiveness.
But what about blue-light-blocking lenses?
Lenses that block blue light may increase comfort while on digital devices for long periods of time, Fitzgerald says, but they also can decrease light sensitivity.
She recommends her patients simply avoid screens two to three hours before bed.
The American Ophthalmology Association does not recommend any special eyewear for computer use and also suggests limiting or avoiding screens two to three hours before bed.
During the work day, you can also try the "20-20-20" rule: Every 20 minutes, shift your eyes away from the screen to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
As far as sunglasses, Fitzgerald suggests lenses with a higher E-SPF rating for greater UVA protection. Better-quality sunglasses tend to have better blue light protection, she says.
Jenny Cathcart, a St. Joseph insurance agent, wears blue-light glasses. She works in front of a large computer screen under bright lights for the majority of her day and finds her glasses help decrease eye strain and headaches.
“I am very interested in ways to better and preserve my health,” she says.
When her favorite bloggers and authors discussed how the glasses had helped them, she bought a pair. She now wears them whenever she’s in front of a computer.
“For something so inexpensive, I would say that if you work on devices most of the day, feel like you are straining your eyes while you work ... or are concerned with headaches, you might as well give them a try,” Cathcart says.
Rather than wear her blue-light-blocking glasses while on her mobile devices at night, she instead switches them to night mode.
“I could use (the glasses) for watching TV in the evening as well,” she says, “but haven't been consistent with that.”
She bought her pair from Amazon (they range from $15 to $40) and says that they didn’t take any time to get used to, but she did notice a decrease in her screen’s brightness immediately.