Courtesy Tanya Edwards
Staring at screens for at least ten hours a day is probably not good for my eye health, but it’s part of my job. At the end of the day, my eyes often feel dry, irritated, and even get red. Although my eye strain is partially due to overusing my contacts, I notice I feel a lot better after I look away from my phone or computer.
To help reduce eye fatigue, several companies, like Warby Parker and Felix Gray, have developed blue light glasses to protect the eyes from the light coming from all screens. The glasses have filters in their lenses that allegedly serve to block blue light from digital devices.
So, me being naturally curious, I decided to test a pair for myself. First, I did an Internet search and found options for high-end glasses $70 and up. But, since I was skeptical of how effective they would be, I went with a more budget-friendly option. I picked up a lightweight and comfortable cute pair at Walmart with a tortoise pattern for under $20. Amazon and Target also carry similar styles around the same price range.
Although these pair of blue light glasses don’t seem built to last, I tried them anyway to see if it’s worth the hype.
The first day wearing blue light glasses
I’m a person who splits time between contact lenses and glasses, and sometimes my eyes get dry if I wear my contacts for more than 10 hours. Since my regular glasses don’t have a blue light filter, I had to wear my contacts all day with the blue light glasses.
On the first day, when I put the glasses on, I noticed the light in the room and the light coming from my screen was less harsh. It was almost like looking at a filtered photo where the brightness was turned down. Blue light is everywhere, including natural sunlight, incandescent bulbs, and fluorescent and LED light sources. We’re also constantly exposed to artificial light from our devices (smartphones, iPads, laptops, TV) and too much blue light at night can suppress the secretion of melatonin, a natural hormone that regulates our sleep cycles.
Interestingly, blue light glasses have been used for insomnia. In a 2018 study, published in the journal Psychiatric Research, researchers looked at the effect of blocking blue light at night for two hours before going to sleep for seven nights in 14 people with insomnia symptoms. The participants were randomly chosen to wear lightweight clear glasses or blue light-blocking glasses. The findings revealed those who wore the blue light glasses experienced an improvement in quality, quantity, and soundness of sleep.
The truth about eye strain and blue light glasses
As the week wore on, I didn’t notice a huge amount of difference in eye strain, which isn’t surprising, according to Rahul Khurana, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). “The reality is that the reason why we have digital eye strain is not from the blue light, but it’s rather from not blinking enough when we are looking at the screens for long periods of time,” Dr. Khurana explains. “And when we start looking at digital devices or you could be looking at TV, a book, or your smartphone, we blink half to a third less. And the reason why that’s really important is that every time you blink, it kind of lubricates the eye, makes the eye feel better, and it prevents eye strain.”
To wear or not to wear
After talking with Dr. Khurana, I still opted to wear my blue light glasses. I wanted to see if my eye fatigue would improve. I started to wear them around the clock, but I wondered how much time is appropriate?
“So there’s no clear number that has been studied,” explains Melina Morkin, MD, ophthalmologist and assistant professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. We know in general extended digital light exposure is known to cause eye problems, so there’s a lot of proven methods to help with eye strain.
I wore my glasses all day, and as a contact lens wearer, I began to find them annoying for wear. They weren’t uncomfortable, but they didn’t fit the way a top-of-the-line pair of prescription glasses fit either. These felt more like the sunglasses you might buy at a mall kiosk, which makes sense as I didn’t spend too much on them.
Adopting the 20-20-20 rule
Since I was hyper-aware of how my eyes were working with my screens, I asked the doctors I spoke with for some tips, and the 20-20-20 rule was so easy to pick up, I’m still doing it after testing the blue light glasses.
This is an effective and inexpensive way to spare your eyesight while looking at screens, explains Dr. Morkin. “We need to relax the eye muscles when straining them, and the classic 20-20-20 rule works great. It consists of looking away at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds every 20 minutes,” she says. You can also download apps developed to help people follow the 20-20-20 rule. Examples include ProtectYourVision and eyeCare.
Science also favors adopting the 20-20-20 rule to reduce digital eye strain and other symptoms related to excessive screen exposure. In a 2013 study of 795 university students, published in the Nepalese Journal of Ophthalmology, researchers found those who followed the 20-20-20 rule on distant objects while using the computer experienced symptoms of computer vision syndrome. These symptoms include eye strain, watering or dry eyes and blurred vision. While the scientific data to support this rule is limited, the American Optometric Association and the AAO recommend it to reduce eye strain.
electravk/Getty ImagesEye health beyond the eyes
There are ways to support your eye health that don’t involve your eyes, according to Dr. Khurana. “Quit smoking, [start] eating a healthy diet, which is lean, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins A and B, exercise regularly, and wearing sunblockers that block UV light when outside. And obviously, if you have any vision problems, see an ophthalmologist to see what can be done.” Also, it’s important to know your family’s health history, the National Eye Institute recommends. Some eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration or glaucoma, can run in the family.
What eye experts think of blue light blocking glasses
Although there’s been a lot of controversy surrounding blue light, the reality is it might not be that big of a deal. “Digital eye strain has allowed people to assume that blue light is damaging and that’s where a lot of people are taking advantage of the situation and these companies are selling blue light glasses and all those kinds of things,” Dr. Khurana says. “I don’t think there’s any evidence that really shows that it makes a difference. That’s why the American Academy of Ophthalmology does not recommend using any type of special eyewear for computer use. And I think that’s a very, very important thing.”
My final verdict
I didn’t find that the blue light blocking glasses had much impact on my eye strain. But, I did find them helpful in how they warmed the tone on my screens and the artificial light around me in the latter half of the day week. I’m not sure if they’re related, but the week when I tried the blue light glasses, I found myself falling asleep a lot easier—especially if I wore the glasses the last two hours of the day while looking at my phone or television screen. I will likely keep this habit as I’m always chasing a good night’s sleep. As to eye strain? I can’t say I’d bother using the blue light blocking glasses again.