Have you found yourself squinting to see? Rubbing your eyes? Does blue light hurt your eyes? We asked an expert to find out…
By Diane Small
Hands up if the first thing you do when you wake up is check your phone, either for the time or for messages? I know I’m guilty of this, and my use of electronics only intensifies during the day.
In fact, I’m pretty much on my computer or smart phone all day, every day. As a writer, I’m either researching, writing, or yes, checking social media unless I’m eating, working out, or conversing with an actual human face to face. And the result? Glasses.
I can’t be sure if it’s the computer screens that have caused me to wear glasses for the first time in my life, but apparently, loads of screen time coupled with air conditioning, heating and bright room lighting can have a negative impact on your eyes.
Some researchers say the blue light emitted from smartphones and laptops is so harmful, it can cause disruptions in our sleeping patterns, skin damage. According to a new study published last month in the journal Scientific Reports, this blue light can even increase our chance of becoming blind!
Previous studies have found that blue light is indeed harmful to the eyes, but researchers from the University of Toledo say it can actually make molecules “toxic.” These Toledo scientists found that shining blue light on eye cells transforms vital molecules into a cell-killing poison that can lead to age-related macular degeneration, one of the biggest causes of blindness worldwide.
“We are being exposed to blue light continuously, and the eye’s cornea and lens cannot block or reflect it,” Ajith Karunarathne, an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry who helped write the study, said in a press release.
Pretty scary, right?
At least not all experts agree with these findings. “People are very worried that we’re looking at our screens more than we ever did,” says Dr. Rahul Khurana, clinical spokesman for the American Academy of Ophthalmologists. “Everyone is very concerned that it may be causing damage to the eye, and it’s a valid concern, but there’s no evidence it may be causing any irreversible damage.”
Hmm….so what should we believe? It seems most of us need to use computers for work, and smartphones to stay connected to friends and family. Isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? How can we protect our eyes from blue light damage, just in case?
To find out, I spoke to Eye Care Expert Ashish Mathur and asked him which researchers are right: Does blue light hurt your eyes? Or is it totally benign?
“The truth is somewhere in the middle,” he told me. “You can still use your phone and laptop without harming your eyesight. The trick is to take care of your eyes, whilst using your electronic devices.”
Below are some of Ashish’s best tips for how to protect your eyes from blue light.
1. Remember to Blink
According to Ashish, even in the best case scenarios: “Heavy computer use can lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), where eyes become dry, tired and even strained,” he says. “While not causing any permanent damage, common symptoms of CVS (including eye fatigue, physical tiredness, eye twitching and red eyes) can cause a lot of discomfort and irritation in the short term.” Sound familiar? I know I’ve suffered from all of the above, especially when I’m ‘in the zone’ when I’m writing, or when I have a tight deadline.
He says the use of digital screens also limits the amount of time that we blink, thus denying our eyes the hydration they need to stay moist and healthy. If you work a lot on a computer, live in an arid area or fly a lot, you’re probably familiar with dry eye syndrome, which is when our tear ducts no longer produce the necessary moisture that our eyes need.
To avoid this, it’s simple: you just need to remember to blink. It seems that when we’re deeply focused on a task, we tend to blink less, and if we’re not blinking enough, our eyes aren’t getting regular hydration and moisture from our tears. As a result, our eyes will begin to feel dry and irritated.
Ashish insists we need to get into the habit of deliberately blinking more often. “Don’t worry if you look odd blinking more often than usual when necessary—your eyes will thank you for it,” he says. “I always follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away, and blink 20 times.”
2. Use Glasses
Does blue light hurt your eyes? Not if you’re wearing special blue light blocking glasses! THL Sleep makes stylish glasses with yellowy-orange lenses that blocks out blue light, thus protecting your retinas and ensuring your brain produces enough melatonin to allow you to get a good night’s sleep.
3. Watch the Brightness of Your Screen
It’s a good idea to check the brightness of your computer screen. If it’s set to the highest setting, turn it down slightly and see if it makes any difference to how your eyes feel. An incredibly bright screen can be very harsh on the eyes, so minimise glare by clicking on the brightness settings of your device.
You can also invest in an anti-reflection cover for your computer, or, if you’re on a budget, download a free app like f.lux, which gradually dims your laptop with a pink filter that’s not as harsh on your eyes as the blue light your computer normally exposes you to.
4. Take Breaks
I know it can be difficult to take breaks in a busy office with reports to write and deadlines looming, but a 5-10-minute pause can work wonders. Just looking away from your computer screen for a minute or so every now and again can give your eyes a much-needed break. When you do get back to your desk from your break, Anish says to make sure that you’re not too close or too far from the screen: “Your overall workstation setup plays a role in your eye health. Being too close or far will cause eye strain.”
He recommends positioning monitors at least 50 cm away from eyes with the centre of the screen being about 10-15 degrees below the eyes. That way, the light won’t be so intense and you won’t be craning your neck.
5. Stay Hydrated
Finally, dehydration inside is reflected outside, so Anish says it’s vital to make sure you drink plenty of water during the day to avoid dehydration. Aside from making your eyes feel dry, you will also feel drained overall if you’re not properly hydrated.
So to conclude: Does blue light hurt your eyes? Not if you take care of them correctly!