Screens are pretty much unavoidable these days. We rely on them to work, read the news, watch TV, stay in touch with friends and family, and even order food. But with their added convenience also comes some drawbacks, such as screen-related eye strain and headaches. Blue-light glasses have emerged as a possible solution to help with both, but are they actually effective in reducing headaches? According to experts, they may be helpful, but probably not in the way you think.
What Are Blue-Light Glasses?
"'Blue-light glasses' are better termed 'blue-light-blocking glasses,' which accurately describes the intent and action of the glasses," Howard R. Krauss, MD, a surgical neuro-ophthalmologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, told POPSUGAR.
Visible light is made up of different colored light rays that have varying wavelengths and energy. Blue light is one of the shortest, highest-energy wavelengths. While it's usually associated with phones and other devices, blue light is also found in sunlight, as well as fluorescent and LED lights.
Blue light can be beneficial during the day, because it boosts attention and mood. However, it also has downsides, and blue-light glasses are designed to help combat them, by blocking blue light emitted from screens. "There is a special filter on the top of the glasses, and when the specific wavelength of blue light hits it, it bounces back," Yuna Rapoport, MD, MPH, a board-certified ophthalmologist in New York City, told POPSUGAR.
Do Blue-Light Glasses Help With Headaches?
For anyone looking to use blue-light glasses as a quick fix for eye strain-related headaches, we're sorry to report that the science isn't quite there. In fact, blue light isn't linked with eye strain.
Eye strain is caused by a number of different factors, Dr. Krauss explained. "During times of visual concentration, especially with reading, we have a subconscious reduction in blink rate, as the blink momentarily interferes with that which we are concentrating on," he said. When you have a hard time prying your eyes away from something, the subsequent lack of blinking reduces the tear film over your eye's surface, which causes dry eye.
To combat it, there is a "reflexive tightness in the orbicularis muscle (the muscle which closes the eye), especially as we fight it and struggle to keep our eyes open," Dr. Krauss told POPSUGAR. This is a common cause of eye strain and may lead to headaches. "All of the eye strain is from how we use the screens," Dr. Rapoport added. In other words, the blue light itself isn't the problem. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says it's unnecessary to buy eyewear for computer use.
Unlike with ultraviolet light, there is insufficient evidence that blue light is physically harmful to the structures, cells, or physiology of the eye, Dr. Krauss explained. However, there is evidence that light exposure can impact your circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. Our circadian clocks, which regulate sleep and wake times, are most sensitive to light from about two hours before bedtime until an hour after we typically wake up — so, scrolling through your phone in bed could be disrupting your sleep.
In particular, the blue wavelength of light is more potent than other wavelengths in suppressing the secretion of melatonin, an important hormone for sleep regulation. "Those who have difficulty falling and remaining restfully asleep may wish to try blue-light-blocking glasses, particularly during evening hours," Dr. Krauss said. Dr. Rapoport agreed, adding that, while blue-light glasses won't necessarily prevent headaches directly, they can help improve your sleep — and better sleep can make headaches less frequent.
Other Ways to Combat Screen Headaches
The good news is there are simple solutions to help reduce eye strain and headaches while spending time on your devices. Dr. Rapoport recommends the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You should also take breaks from continuous screen time, and you might consider keeping lubricating drops close to your workspace to refresh your eyes when they get dry.
You can also make tweaks to your environment. Optimize the air and lighting in your room, as a very dry space or one where the A/C or heater is blowing in your face can increase evaporative moisture loss in your eye, leading to dryness and eye strain, Dr. Krauss said. "Working in bright light, especially fluorescent, or in a glare-y environment with reflected light in or around the workspace will increase eye strain, especially amongst those people who may have a predisposition to migraine," he added.
And don't worry — you don't have to throw out any blue-light glasses you're already using. There's no proven harm in wearing them part-time, but you should also know they're probably not a miracle cure for screen use. "If one is already utilizing and enjoying blue blockers, there is not yet any need to discourage it, but the evidence for its proposed health benefit is still lacking," Dr. Krauss said.