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Be Kind to Your Eyes!

May 26, 2020

Disclaimer:  I’m not a medical professional.  For this article, I relied on others who have better knowledge of the topic than I do.  Some expert sources may disagree with what I am presenting.  To be on the safe side, consult with your doctor or optometrist, in addition to doing your own research.  My desire is simply to get you interested in this topic so that you can be kind to your eyes. 

Have you ever finished the day feeling tired, but not physically tired?  (I have.)  Maybe you think that headache is related to stress.  (That’s what I have wondered.)  But what if it’s related instead to your eyes being tired and sore from sitting in front of a computer and other light-emitting devices almost the whole day.

The eyeball itself doesn’t usually hurt, unless it comes in contact with some foreign matter.  But there are small muscles around the eyes that control eye movement and focusing.  Those muscles can get sore, even painful, by the end of the day.  If that happens to you, I suggest you view it as a wake-up call.

Before electricity, most work was done during daylight hours.  Candles or lanterns provided the light for tasks after dark.  Beginning with the sunrise, people would be eased into increasingly brighter light (although sometimes obscured by clouds).  And then toward the end of the day, when the sky gets gradually dimmer, people would gradually be conditioned to feel sleepy.  The alternating rhythm of bright sunlight and deep darkness, as it turns out, is beneficial for health.
With electric lights, we no longer need candles or lanterns.  Our electric lamps are brighter, and some of our electric lights give off a much whiter light than a candle ever could.  That whiter appearance is due to a higher proportion of light from the blue area of the light spectrum.

Televisions, computers, cell phones, and other devices emit light.  Is it a risky kind of light?  Opinions vary.  More research is still needed, but we are hearing more and more warnings about the constant use of electronic devices, which could be harmful: harmful to the eyes, and harmful even to the long-term health of the whole body!  The light emitted by our electronic devices is usually stronger, proportionately, in blue light compared to the other colors of the rainbow, which is the reason for this growing concern.  (Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIhdlvoflGI)

You might say, “But doesn’t natural light from the sun include light from the blue spectrum?”  Indeed, it does.  The blue spectrum (especially as a part of natural light) has benefits.  It makes us feel awake and alert.  It adds to our sense of well-being.  Blue light also adds clarity, making it easier for our eyes to recognize detail.  But blue light can be dangerous when our eyes receive an overdose of blue light for extended time periods, or blue light during the wrong hours of the day, or a combination of both.

Don’t take my word for it.  Scientists and doctors are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of blue light, especially the long-term effects on eyesight and overall health: (Source: https://youtu.be/sot3FA1tWFk)

In fact, the American Medical Association has sounded an alarm about the ultra-white (think, bluish) LED street lights that are being installed in various cities. (Source: https://youtu.be/jPH1Z6B2oUc)

Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, chief of the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and also Director of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, had this to say:
“The more research we do, the more evidence we have that excess artificial light at night can have a profound, deleterious effect on many aspects of human health.  It is a growing public health concern.”  (Source: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/news/20170619/is-blue-light-bad-for-your-health.)

In the following link, an optometrist gives her assessment of the risks of blue light.  It is a much bigger risk for children, because their eyes are still in development—even into the teen-age years.  And it’s a real risk for anyone who has the kind of eye problems we usually associate with aging: https://youtu.be/sijvwheJUrM.

So what can we do about it?

Practical Ideas for Office Workers

  1. Maximize the use of natural light during the day, when and if you can.  Go for a lunch-time walk outside if the weather is appropriate.
  2. Use the 20/20/20 strategy, which means:
    – Every 20 minutes,
    – look away from the screen and focus on something about 20 feet away from you,
    – for 20 seconds.  (See www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/20-20-20-rule)
  3. To reduce eye strain, take advantage of the Windows 10 display settings.  The colors of the screen can be tweaked for evening use, and you can schedule it.  Check your phone settings, too.  There might be a setting to adjust the display for nighttime use.  (If not, there’s an app for that.)
  4. If your concern is less about eye strain, and more about sleep quality, then consider halting the use of electronic screens (including television) an hour or two before bedtime.  Do you like to read in order to relax and get sleepy?  Opt for physical books instead of an iPad or Kindle.
  5. Also in regard to sleep, try to make your bedroom as dark as possible.  Any night lights you use should give off a light that’s somewhere between deep yellow and orange-red in color.  (I bought some good night lights from https://lowbluelights.com.)

Shopping for Blue-Filtering Glasses

You may have seen me wearing amber-tinted glasses.  My limited experience with them tells me they are beneficial, at least for me.  By using them when I’m on the computer, my eyes don’t feel as stressed at the end of the day.

Various filtering levels are typically available, 90%, 65%, 35%, and 15%.  If you’re concerned about appearance, you might like to know that the 15% glasses don’t look obviously tinted.  Regarding the more aggressive levels of filtering, I have found that filtering out 65% or more of the blue makes the screen difficult to read—for my eyes, maybe not for yours.

Amazon.com has quite an array of brand names when it comes to blue-filtering glasses.  I’ve also used gunnar.com and felixgray.com and other sites.  After trying several pairs, I have a better idea of what to look for:

  1. Avoid glasses having screws that appear to go directly into plastic.  Instead, examine the photos to make sure that those tiny screws are part of a metal hinge.  Or get metal frames.
  2. I have bought enough of these to have an opinion about prices, too: Generally it seems that if you pay less than sixty or seventy dollars for a pair of these glasses, you might not be happy with the quality.

Shopping for Light Bulbs

The next time you need to buy light bulbs, think about reducing exposure to blue light, especially for evening use.  Incandescent bulbs are not much of a problem where blue light is concerned.  But what if you’re trying to reduce your electric bill?

Many of the power-saving bulbs are significant blue-light offenders.  Don’t make your decision based on marketing terms, like “soft white” or “daylight.”  Instead, check the packaging for two specific ratings: Lumens and Kelvin.  Lumens is a measure of brightness.  Kelvin temperature is a number that indicates how warm or how cool the light is.  The lower the Kelvin temperature, the warmer (more yellowish) the bulb’s output is, while a higher Kelvin rating means a cooler, whiter light, emitting a greater percentage of blue light.

I like to buy LED bulbs because they last quite a while and they’re easier on the electric bill.  I look for a Kelvin temperature less than 3000, and as high a Lumens rating as I can find.  That combination, in my opinion, makes a room inviting and friendly, not harsh or sterile—and it’s easier on my eyes, besides.

Consider, though, that a smaller room might require less brightness.  But if the room is larger, with darker colored furniture and walls, it may take more lamps or brighter bulbs to light the room to your satisfaction.

Yes, you might need a reading lamp with a high Kelvin rating for reading small print or doing needlework—but hopefully not for evening use.

A Word about Sunglasses

Sunglasses block out lots of blue light (and ultra-violet light), but they do it mostly by filtering all the light, (with some selectivity, maybe, depending on your particular sunglasses).  When you wear sunglasses, your eyes adjust.  The pupils dilate in an effort to collect enough light to see, just as they do when you walk into a rather dark room.  The net effect, then, is near-zero blue filtering (depending on the color and quality of the lenses).

Personally, I prefer not to wear sunglasses at all, except when the glare makes it dangerous for me to drive.  (Even then, my polarized sunglasses are not very dark.)  Otherwise, I let my eyes drink in as much natural daylight as possible—unfiltered—and allow my pupils constrict naturally in response to the brightness of the light.

Here’s to your eye health!