Blue Light: What’s the risk?

Blue Light: What’s the risk?

Jaclyn Krizanic

This article is part of the Winter 2020 Magazine Issue series. To read the full Winter issue click: here.

Look into anyone’s window and there will be a gleam of light—specifically, blue light. With life completely moving online, being exposed to more blue light than ever before is inevitable. But what is blue light? According to BLUTECH, “blue light is a color in the … spectrum that can be seen by human eyes. Blue light is a short wavelength, which means it produces higher amounts of energy.” Studies have shown that because of the high energy, exposure to blue light can cause eye strain, fatigue, headaches and sleeplessness. This does not mean all kinds of blue light are terrible—blue light is almost everywhere. From outside in the sky to inside homes, this light surrounds everyone. The problem is artificial blue light, which comes from a number of sources, such as computers, phones and TV screens. Due to the pandemic, the concern of overexposure has risen from the increased use of these devices for work and school.

Regardless if it’s for school or work, a screen is in front of people for the entire week. But how harmful is this for the health of eyes? 

The exposure to artificial blue light can damage the retina and potentially cause deterioration. Prevent Blindness—an organization located in numerous states that helps with research and support for the blind communities and how to protect themselves from furthering any deterioration or damage to their eye—warns about how “This [blue light] can cause vision problems, like age-related macular degeneration.” However, many people do not realize blue light affects more than the eye. According to Harvard Health, this type of light exposure actually can affect sleep patterns by messing with the brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone which helps control the body’s sleep cycle. 

Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment using two different types of light, green light and blue light, in six and a half hour periods to see its effects on sleep. The exposure to blue light “suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (three hours versus one and a half hours).” Another study, done by  researchers at the University of Toronto, compared the levels of melatonin in people who wore blue-light-blocking goggles when exposed to natural light from windows and those exposed to dim artificial lighting. The levels of the hormone were about the same, demonstrating the benefits of blocking blue light during high light exposure.

Now, buying blue-light-blocking glasses is the latest trend. Glasses can be purchased from Amazon or even from eye care services offering prescription glasses with additional blue light protection. With prescription glasses, this usually costs an additional fee between $30 and $80. Even purchasing a pair of non-prescription blue light glasses can be a flat cost of up to $60. This is seen from department stores and even optometrist’s offices. Amazon, on the other hand, has some great deals and selections by selling two or three pairs of blue-light-blocking glasses for only $10 to $20.

Cost can vary between purchasing platforms, but how well do they actually work? Research by WebMD suggests it could be a placebo. There is little research on the use of the glasses with a computer or cellular device. However, Lisa Ostrin, a professor at the University of Houston’s College of Optometry, argues wearing the glasses actually shows about “a 58 percent increase in their nighttime melatonin levels. By using blue blocking glasses, we … can improve sleep and still continue to use our devices.” More or less, because there is a setting that turns a device to night mode and reduces blue light, spending money on glasses may not be worth it. Although, wearing glasses while on night mode would improve the effect, increasing total melatonin levels and allowing more use of a device.

Using devices all day for work or school is not the only screen time for the average person. There’s social media scrolling and TV watching too. If the average person works eight hours a day and uses their phone in addition to that, this can turn into over twelve hours of screen time without even realizing.

So how much time is too much time? There is no perfect answer, but there is a rule that should be practiced while using any type of device. The 20-20-20 rule is not only easy to remember but also to employ. For every 20 minutes of digital screen time, look away from the screen at an object that is at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This is helpful when looking at artificial blue light and working up close on your computer. By taking these extended screen breaks and implementing dark mode features, this matches any benefits experienced with anti-blue light glasses for free. If eye strain is still a problem after these additional practices, consider how and where the screen is being used.

According to All About Vision eye research, there are 10steps to use to reduce continued eye strain. While considering the use of blue light glasses is on the list, other important tips include getting an eye exam each year and making sure the room where the computer is set up has proper lighting. Eye strain usually is caused by excessive bright light, either from outdoor sunlight through a window or from interior lighting. To deal with that, All About Vision recommends, “when you use a computer, your ambient lighting should be about half as bright as that typically found in most offices.” Eliminate unnecessary exterior light by closing drapes or blinds or working in a room with fewer windows. This helps the eye adjust and lessens the quantity of light the eye is exposed to. Try positioning computers so windows are to the side rather than in front or behind the device. Avoiding unnecessary exposure goes a long way in decreasing eye strain.

The following are tips to lessen eye strain; not only can these tips help limit the amount of exposure to blue light, but also the type of exposure. If working inside, avoid overhead fluorescent lights. The harsh fluorescents can cause damage, so turn those off and use floor lamps that provide soft white indirect LED lighting instead. Minimize as much glare as possible. The glare from light reflecting off of walls and surfaces, as well as the computer screen, can also cause eye strain. The article suggests working against darker toned walls under a lamp or light because the light cannot bounce off as directly as it would against a white wall, for example.

The ability to refrain from using technology and looking at screens is inevitable. However, taking precautions and understanding the importance of protecting the eye from exposure to artificial blue light will exponentially help from deteriorating damage to the eye.  

Jaclyn Krizanic is a senior studying professional writing and minoring in graphic design. Jaclyn plans to apply her knowledge and skill sets she has gained from her major into her current, future and professional work. Jaclyn loves to write poetry and aspires to publish a book of poems and short stories upon her graduation.