I’ve fielded a lot of questions about blue light lately. Many people – especially parents – are concerned about the possible harmful effects of blue light emitted from computers, smart phones, and tablets. And COVID-19 has ushered in a perfect storm for increased digital device usage. From learning online, to working at home, to binge watching videos, we’re all on digital devices more than we used to be. So, should we be concerned about blue light and should we take steps to protect ourselves from it?
Before answering those questions, let’s talk about the characteristics of blue light. Blue light is a specific wavelength of light that is emitted from the sun, digital screens, some electronic devices, and some types of lighting. Far and away, the sun is the biggest source of blue light (more on that later). When we are exposed to blue light, the secretion of melatonin is suppressed, which prevents us from becoming sleepy. In this way, exposure to blue light can affect our sleep/wake cycle. In some people, exposure to blue light can also cause eye fatigue and strain. And finally, exposure to outdoor blue light (emitted from the sun) has been proven to damage cells in the retina, which may increase the risk of certain eye diseases.
Now, back to our questions. Should we be concerned about blue light exposure? Given the information above, I believe the answer is yes. Getting an adequate amount of quality sleep is vital for our health. Eye strain can be uncomfortable and can hamper productivity. And we obviously don’t want to cause damage to our retinal cells. So yes – I believe we should be concerned about the harmful effects of blue light.
Now onto our second question. What steps should we take to protect ourselves from blue light exposure? Remember, the sun is the largest source of blue light. So the first step in protecting ourselves from blue light would be to avoid sun exposure – either by limiting the amount of time we’re outdoors, by wearing a hat, or by wearing sunglasses. Indoor blue light (emitted by digital screens, some electronic devices, and some types of lighting), while not proven to be as harmful as outdoor blue light, still has the potential disrupt our sleep cycle and may cause eye fatigue. Ways to protect ourselves from indoor blue light include reducing screen time, decreasing screen brightness, using certain screen protectors, and wearing glasses with blue light protection built into the lenses. Most of the lenses we prescribe in our office do offer blue light protection.
A couple of final notes on blue light: First, some blue light may be beneficial so it’s probably not in our best interest to block ALL blue light. Before purchasing any products that claim to protect from blue light, find out what percentage is actually being blocked. Second, wearing blue light protection while using indoor devices is a good idea. But if you’re not also wearing sunglasses when you’re outdoors, you’re exposing yourself to more damage outside than you’re protecting yourself from when you’re inside.
Until next time –
Clint Taylor, OD