How Blue Screens Affect Eye Health

Life sure was different a few decades ago. Back then television was a novelty that only the fairly well-heeled could afford. Now, we all have multiple electronics in our homes—televisions, laptops, video game consoles, tablets, etc.—and carry an entire computer in our pockets. These devices open up the world to us—information at our fingertips, long-distance video chats with loved ones, and more entertainment than you could watch or play in a lifetime. 

There are drawbacks to all this technology, though. Some estimate that we spend an average of 11 hours a day in front of the screen. You probably already know that too much screen time gets in the way of physical activity. But did you know that too much screen time can affect your eyes? 

What Is Blue Light Anyway?

Most of our modern electronic devices emit blue light. Blue light is a short-wave, high-energy light. It’s present, not only in our devices, but in the sun as well. There is a difference in the quality of that light, though. Light from the sun is considered broad-spectrum, which means it has red and green-colored light waves as well as blue. 

In most of our devices, the LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that light up our screens are highly concentrated (compared to older incandescent light bulbs) and have a higher ratio of blue light waves. Those shorter, more intense light waves can be hard on our eyes. 

Blue light is not all bad. Many people use light therapy boxes to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sometimes called “the winter blues,” SAD causes lethargy, moodiness, and depression when daylight hours shorten in winter months. Light boxes use blue light waves to replace some of the blue light that we miss in the colder months.

The same blue light waves that can perk us up in the winter can also keep us up at night. Blue light is believed to interrupt our circadian rhythms, which operate like an internal clock, telling us when it’s time to sleep. In fact, most health specialists advise turning off screens an hour before bed to lessen that effect.

Can Too Much Blue Light Hurt My Eyes?

There has been a lot of research into whether or not blue light from electronic devices can cause permanent damage to our eyes, but there really is no consensus. While there is some evidence that blue light can cause harm to certain cells in the retina, no study has shown definitively that blue light from electronics’ screens causes long-term permanent damage or vision loss. That doesn’t mean new information on blue light won’t be found at some point. After all, the digital age is fairly new, comparatively speaking.

Even if no studies point to long-term damage, that doesn’t mean that blue light can’t affect our eyes negatively in the short-term. 

Blue Light Can Cause Eye Strain

Working at computers for extended periods, or playing games on a phone for too long exposes us to a lot of blue light, usually at close range. This can cause considerable eye strain. 

Digital eye strain (sometimes called computer vision syndrome) is a term used to describe the particular symptoms that result from too much uninterrupted screen time. Digital eye strain symptoms include dry eyes, fatigue of muscles around the eye, headaches, and irritation and burning sensations in the eye.

One of the culprits of digital eye strain in the fact that we don’t blink as often when we’re looking at a screen. Another is that, because we are looking at something that doesn’t move, our eyes aren’t focusing and refocusing as they would if we were moving about. 

Low-Tech Ways to Reduce Eye Strain

There are a lot of things you can do to protect your eyes from blue light and the strain of too much screen time.

Practice the 20-20-20 rule. This is pretty simple. Set a timer to go off every 20 minutes. Then, for 20 seconds, gaze at something 20 feet away. Really, use the timer. We all know how quickly time goes when we’re riveted by our screens.

Check your lighting. If your screen is the only light in the room, you’re going to feel the glare. Place incandescent lights nearby to minimize the glare—just don’t direct them at the screen.

Change the size of the display. If you find yourself squinting at the images or print on your screen, enlarge them so you don’t have to strain to see. This will also prevent leaning in too close to the screen.

Blink! Blink frequently. If you find that you forget to do this, incorporate this strategy with the 20-20-20 rule. 

Keep eyes lubricated. Use eye drops to keep your eyes from drying out or place a cool cloth over your eyes for a couple of minutes. It can relieve any stinging or burning sensations, and your eyes will feel less dry. 

Use a Blue Light Filter

If blue light itself is problematic, it makes sense to limit our exposure to it. Blue light filters are now on the market that can lessen the glare of blue light. Scientific evidence on their effectiveness is limited, but people swear by filters to lessen digital eye strain. 

Many devices have their own blue light filtering technology. Windows 10 offers Night light. Night light is actually pretty easy to set up, even if electronics intimidate you. Go to settings and find your display tab. From there, set Night light to turn on at sundown. Most smart phones have the same feature, though it may go by a different name.

Not all blue light filters work equally well, so check your app store to try out different ones. 

Many people prefer external blue light filters as opposed to in-app filters. Eye Just makes a screen protector with blue light filtering for iPhones. There are similar filters designed for laptops, desktops, and tablets. 

You can even add a blue light filter to your eyeglass prescription. Zenni Optical offers an add-on filter feature called Blokz to their lenses. At $16.95 for the feature, it won’t break the bank. There are plenty of other blue light filter glasses on the market as well. Some look like regular eyeglasses and some look more like ski goggles, so there is something for everyone.

We spend an awful lot of time in front of our phones and computers. It’s worth keeping screen time in check to protect our eyes.


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