Blue Light, Vision Strain, and the Headaches that Come With It

For most of us, not a day goes by without logging onto a computer, checking our phones or watching a show on TV. All of this device usage exposes us to copious amounts of blue light, a form of visible light with short wavelengths.

While blue light is necessary for good health, if you’re someone who spends a large portion of your day staring at screens, there’s a good chance you’re feeling the negative effects of blue light, too. Seeing too much blue light may cause something called digital eyestrain, an uncomfortable problem that’s all too common in today’s digital world.

What is blue light?

On the light spectrum, there are numerous types of light. Some, we can see, but others, we cannot, such as ultraviolet (UV) light. Blue light is a form of visible light that has the shortest wavelengths and highest energy. Blue light can come from natural sources, like sunlight, but is also manmade and given off by florescent lights and devices like computer screens, TVs, tablets and cell phones.

Not all blue light is bad for you; you actually need it to boost alertness, develop good vision and regulate your circadian rhythms. However, blue light is not filtered, but rather passes straight to the retina in the back of the eye. Currently, there is no scientific proof that blue light damages your eyes, but eyecare professionals are concerned about the potential dangers of it prematurely aging the eyes, considering how much time we spend in front of our devices and the proximity of this light to our eyes.

Blue light is known to contribute to eyestrain, though. The light “scatters” more easily than other types of light, which means it’s not as easily focused by the eye and it reduces contrast, which puts stress on the eyes.

Understanding eyestrain

Eyestrain can occur after spending long periods of time staring intensely at one thing for too long. One of the most common causes of eyestrain today is from staring at computers or mobile devices, partly because of the close proximity and partly because of the lack of contrast caused by blue light. Additionally, people tend to blink less frequently when staring at screens, drying out their eyes.

Eyestrain can be extremely uncomfortable to deal with, especially if you rely on looking at screens all day for your job. By causing headaches and unfocused vision, it can make you less productive and cause feelings of physical fatigue. Fortunately, eyestrain usually goes away on its own after resting your eyes for a short while.

Here are the common symptoms of eyestrain:

  • Dry eyes
  • Sore or irritated eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty focusing

Tips for preventing eyestrain

Because of how often we rely on computers and mobile devices in our increasingly-connected world, minimizing our exposure to blue light can be somewhat difficult. However, if you are feeling the effects of eyestrain and vision-related headaches after spending time staring at screens, you should really make an effort to cut down on the time you spend on these devices.

If you need access to phones and computer screens for your job or school, try some of these techniques to give your eyes a break from all that blue light and stress.

  • Moisturize your eyes: If your eyes tend to dry out when staring at the computer, use eye drops to keep your eyes moisturized throughout the day.
  • Utilize blue light phone filters: Some device manufacturers sell filters that go over your device to help minimize the blue light emission. Many of these are similar to or double up as scratch protectors.
  • Check into light settings: Your phone or computer likely has a setting you can activate to reduce the amount of blue light it emits. These settings are particularly useful for at night, which is when you want to reduce exposure to blue light the most, or else it could interfere with your sleep schedule.
  • Wear blue light glasses: Many retailers now sell special glasses with non-prescription lenses that help block out blue light. These are an excellent choice for people who have to work at a computer for long hours each day.
  • Take vision-boosting supplements: Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in maintaining good vision health. Taking supplements may help combat eyestrain and any long-term effects of blue light.
  • Use the 20/20/20 rule: If you will be looking at a device for a long time, use the 20/20/20 rule, which suggests taking a 20-second break to shift your attention onto something 20 feet away every 20 minutes you’re working at a screen. These mini-breaks can help your eyes refocus and minimize eyestrain throughout the day.

It’s important to pay attention to the signs your body gives you regarding your vision. Scientists aren’t sure of the long-term effects blue light can have on the health of your eyes yet, but you shouldn’t have to experience constant discomfort due to eyestrain.

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