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by Genevieve Mellott

This article does not refer to a Kmart discount or that time you got a speeding ticket, but rather to the wavelengths of light emitted by electronics, specifically screens. The very things we stare at all day could be damaging our eyes and possibly causing other health conditions. Is this a groundbreaking, scientific discovery, or is all of this hubbub just a ploy to get us to spend more money on fancy eyewear?

There are a couple schools of thought here. One is that the only damage inflicted on our bodies from our screens is due to looking at them all day, not from the light they emit. Looking at a screen is proven to cause eye fatigue and sometimes headaches and muscle strain, simply because we do not blink as often and have poor posture while viewing. On the other hand, the people who are likely to sell you glasses to protect your eyes from blue light and other potentially damaging sources (no bias there, right?) say that there is indeed a reason to be alarmed.

Ophthalmologists are likely to tell you that blue light does not cause health issues, although they admit it does, in fact, make getting to sleep harder. Blue light is in sunlight, and this natural source helps keep us alert during the daytime and can elevate mood. Studies cited by the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) reveal no detrimental side effects to these wavelengths present in electronics and go further to say that there could be damage from too little blue light. Plus, AAO does not endorse wearing blue-light-filtering eyewear. (They also do not delve into the association among blue light, lost sleep, and a myriad of other concerns.)

After learning that view, it may be difficult to accept the stance that many optometrists hold: excessive blue light is unhealthy. (To clarify: optometrists check us for vision problems and sell us eyewear, while ophthalmologists are eye doctors dealing in the health and diseases of the eye.) From an optometric standpoint, why take the risk of potential health risks in the first place? There are filters and glasses that can reduce the amount of blue light that enters the eye, thus enabling us to live our 21st century lives in glorious digital peace, regardless of the amount of screen time. Granted, eye strain, headaches, etc. could still exist, but using the 20-20-20 rule combats those: for every 20 minutes of viewing, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Bingo.

Well, this may be one of those few cases in which the people trying to sell us something are actually right.

Harvard Health Publishing proposes evidence that blue light “may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.” These concerns arise via the consequences of too little sleep caused by blue light exposure. The light interrupts our circadian rhythm (the wake/sleep cycle,) and shifts in the cycle are associated to those specific health problems. Likewise, UC Davis links blue light to myopia (nearsightedness) and macular degeneration, looking at the qualities of the light itself and how it acts on the inner eye.

Because our society no longer sleeps when the sun goes down and wakes with the dawn, our dependence on nighttime lighting (including blue light) seems to be negatively affecting our health. While there are benefits to the blue range found in natural sunlight, using LEDs and screens at all hours expose us to far more of this part of the spectrum than ever before. If we plan to get our healthy dose of daylight and keep on using our screens and LEDs – which most of us will – maybe looking into some stylish blue light eyewear isn’t a bad idea after all.

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