Did You Know That Blue Light Is Bad for Your Eyes?

eye doctor

Blue light is quickly becoming the most talked about topic in eye care. If you had asked me about the dangers of blue light 3-4 years ago, I would have said that the risk was minimal. But things have drastically changed. It’s not that blue light is any more dangerous now than it was then, but those of us in the eye care field are becoming increasingly aware of its dangers. The reason is due to the rapidly expanding digital age.

Where Does Blue Light Come From?

Not too many years ago, the blue light risk was limited to sunlight exposure, televisions and some computer use. Now, most people in developed countries are exposed to blue light hazards on a constant basis during the hours they are awake.

In the computer and digital age, young and old alike are using digital devices at an unprecedented rate. Most anyone over the age of 10 years old is constantly using a personal cell phone. When people are not on their cell phones, they are often on desktop, laptop or tablet computers.

And to make things worse on your eyes, in an effort to make the country more energy efficient, the government has mandated that we use more energy efficient light bulbs (i.e. fluorescent, compact fluorescent, LED). Sure, they are more energy efficient, but they emit much more blue light, which is harmful to our eyes. It seems that our eyes can’t win in this digital age.

The Science Behind Blue Light

Thinking back on basic science, you may remember that light can be invisible or visible. The most notable invisible light with which we are familiar is ultraviolet light (UV). We are well educated that UV light is harmful to us. In fact, I would expect that most people reading this know that they should wear sunscreen and should buy sunglasses with UV protection. The reality is that, although this is true and UV is harmful to our eyes, the damage it causes is not nearly as harmful as the effects of visible blue light.

While UV is in the invisible part of the light spectrum, blue light is in the visible light spectrum. Just think of a rainbow and the colors that you can see…red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Blue light is by far the most harmful light in the visible light spectrum. The least harmful thing that blue light will do to our eyes is cause visual disturbances.

Blue light is the only light in the visible light spectrum that scatters, causing a mild lack of focus. The eyes will fatigue while trying to constantly clear this blur. This is a lot like your cell phone battery running out of battery life faster when you are out of town and your phone is on roam, searching for a cell tower. These days, this condition is most commonly referred to as digital eyestrain (it’s called digital since devices such as cell phones, tablets, computers, etc. are causing these issues).

How Blue Light Can Damage Your Eyes

Unfortunately, the harmful effects of blue light can be much more serious than digital eyestrain. Numerous studies have proven that blue light increase the risk for macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes central vision loss and is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65 years old in the United States. Unlike UV, which is absorbed by the front of the eye, blue light goes through the front of the eye and ends up affecting the retina, which is at the back of the eye. This is why blue light can increase the risk for macular degeneration.

Another harmful effect of blue light is how it interrupts our natural sleep pattern, the circadian rhythm. In the absence of blue light, our brains produce a chemical, called melatonin, which helps us go to sleep. The problem is that many of us are exposing our eyes to blue light just before we try to go to sleep, by looking at or reading on our cell phones or tablets.

Without realizing it, we are decreasing the chances we get a good night’s sleep. Many studies have shown that poor sleep or lack of sleep not only can cause issues such as weight gain, irritability, and lack of focus, but also can increase the risk for medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and even cancer.

Adults and children alike are at risk for the harmful effects of blue light exposure. In fact, children and young adults (up to 40 years old) are more at risk since they don’t have any natural internal eye protection (after 40 years old we start forming a substance in the lens of our eyes, called ocular lens pigment, which filters blue light coming through the eye).

Blue Light Protection

As much as I want to create awareness surrounding the harmful effects of blue light, I would also like to offer possible solutions to the problem. The best solution is to not use digital devices. As unrealistic as this solution may be, minimizing usage can help. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children do not use digital devices for more than 2 hours per day. The same goes for adults who want to minimize the negative effects of blue light exposure.

Since digital devices permeate our lives and none of us can seem to live without them, there are alternatives to non-use. A few of the available options intended to protect us from blue light only reflect a small amount of blue light in a narrow band of the blue light spectrum.

These include thin plastic overlays for devices as well as glasses lenses with anti-glare coatings. Unfortunately, these options don’t protect us from the most harmful blue light, at the lower end of the blue light spectrum. They also fall short in helping us maintain a normal sleep/wake cycle since they don’t filter at the upper end of the blue light spectrum.

BluTech Lenses

The gold standard of blue light protection is a product called BluTech Lenses. BluTech is a lens material, instead of just a coating, that filters blue light throughout the entire spectrum of harmful blue light.

BluTech Lenses can be worn full time or as computer/digital device lenses and come in both prescription and non-prescription (even those who don’t need glasses need to protect themselves from the hazards of blue light!). They also come in indoor and outdoor versions.

This means we can wear them as everyday glasses, computer glasses, and even as sunglasses (BluTech outdoor lenses are sunglass lenses that have 100% UV protection, are polarized and also filter harmful blue light).

Conclusion

Considering the harmful effects that blue light can have on our eyes, everyone should at least be aware of the dangers. Minimizing digital device usage is an important step. At best, whether wearing them as primary glasses, sunglasses, and/or as digital device protection glasses, everyone should consider wearing BluTech Lenses to decrease their risk from the harmful effects of blue light.

Dr. Danny Clarke is the owner and one of 5 optometrists at Clarke EyeCare Center in Wichita Falls, Texas. He has lectured nationally and internationally on the subject of blue light. He can be contacted at dbc@clarkeeye.com.