One of the hottest topics in eye care is addressing patients’ visual discomfort resulting from increased blue light exposure. And, it’s on the rise. Are you prepared with the knowledge and solutions you need to help your patients combat this ever-growing concern?
Join us as we take an in-depth look at blue light and its concerning visual side effects on all ages in this four-part blog series. Our first post provides an overview of the principle of blue light and its impact on the eye and visual acuity. We also explain how prolonged exposure can lead to eye strain in the case of outdoor light, or a condition called digital eye strain (DES), resulting from the use of digital devices.
So, What’s Blue Light, Anyways?
Simply put, blue light is a range of light that contains the highest amount of energy in the visible light spectrum, emitted from both natural and artificial sources. Also known as High Energy Visible (HEV) light, blue light is measured in wavelengths from 380 to 500 nanometers (nm). Called the “blue band,” it’s divided into three segments: violet light (~380-410 nm); blue-violet light (~415-455 nm); and blue turquoise light (~455-500 nm).
It’s the blue-violet segment that’s especially worrisome, emitting the kind of high-energy that makes our eyes work overtime trying to bring it into focus.
Blue light penetrates all the way through the eye to the retina.
VSP UUniversity course: Blue Light Basics: Benefits of a Photochromic Lens
Here Comes the Sun
While this article will focus mainly on the effects of blue light produced by digital devices, these tools aren’t the only culprits. The major source of blue light is actually the sun, generating up to 500 times more intense blue light than that produced by computers, smartphones, tablets and TVs.
How? Light travels from the sun and is spread out by Earth’s atmosphere, scattering the shorter, blue wavelengths. The sun also produces ultraviolet (UV) rays, which extend beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum, generating even higher energy and shorter, disruptive wavelengths that are difficult for our eyes to process, resulting in eye strain.
Unfortunately, children’ exposure to outdoor blue light is especially concerning, as very few who wear prescription eyeglasses wear any type of corrective sunglasses.
Digital is Everywhere
In an increasingly digital world, there’s no escaping exposure to blue light. Most of us have become dependent on electronic devices to conduct business, learn, and entertain ourselves during the past decade. Consider these staggering statistics:
It all adds up. Americans spend an average of 10.5 hours a day engaging with not only smartphones, TVs, and laptops, but also electronic retail signage, digital menus, and touchscreen visitor check-in devices. It seems that everywhere you look, there’s another digital destination!
Enter the Pandemic: The Gateway to Unfettered Screen Time
In Jobson’s recent Coronavirus survey, 64% of eye care professional (ECP) respondents
Seniors have also begun to embrace digital devices in record numbers, largely out of necessity in the past year, with video calls replacing family gatherings, in-person visits, and even doctor appointments.
The study “2020 Tech Trends of the 50+” also found that the generation gap in smartphone adoption is narrowing. In the past two years, smartphone adoption has jumped from 70% to 77% among older adults.
Even as social distancing restrictions change, everyone continues to log tens of hours in front of screens for work, school, and after-hours entertainment. It’s now become commonplace for people of all ages to stream movies, binge TV series’, or play video games, often with a smartphone in hand.
Making the Connection: Blue Light and Digital Eye Strain
With an increase in digital technology, many individuals suffer from physical discomfort after screen use for longer than two hours at a time. The Vision Council refers to this collection of symptoms as digital eye strain.
VSP® network doctor Dr. Dora Adamopoulos, based in Alexandria, Virginia, says her patients often complain of dry, irritated eyes, headaches, and blurry vision. They blame everything from their desk chair to the fact that pollen season is coming early. “Then I ask them, ‘How many screens are you looking at every day?’” says Adamopoulos. “They say two or three. And then they have their phone at their desk. And, they’re using them most of the day at work, then more at night at home.”
“What I’m seeing is people 18 to 25 years old complaining of symptoms that I used to see in patients in their late 30s and 40s,” Adamopoulos says, adding that today’s children are at particular risk of cumulative exposure. If you’re 45, she says, you likely didn’t stare at screens throughout your childhood, while today’s kids start when they’re two or three.
“I’m seeing people 18 to 25 years old complaining of symptoms that I used to see in patients in their late 30s and 40s.”
Whether it’s from the sun’s intense rays, or the type produced by digital devices, blue light exposure can result in glare-induced eye strain. And, now more than ever—with our increasing reliance on digital devices for work, life, and play—we need solutions designed to combat the symptoms associated with high usage. Fortunately, options abound to alleviate the uncomfortable effects of exposure to blue light.
Learn more about the science behind blue light, optical defense mechanisms, and lens technologies designed to combat digital eye strain in our next post. Read Part 2 now!
 VisionWatch survey, July 2018; 17-year running study of the U.S. ophthalmic market conducted by The Vision Council.
 “Soaring Screen Time: Pandemic Amplifies Vision Issues, Creating Opportunities for ECPs.” Julie Bos. Vision Monday. September 21, 2020 12:30 AM. https://www.visionmonday.com/eyecare/article/soaring-screen-time/
 Coronavirus ECP Survey from Jobson Research, Wave 14.
 “Older Adults Keep Pace on Tech Usage,” 2020 Tech Trends of the 50+. Brittne Nelson Kakulla, AARP Research, January 2020
 “What the Rise of Technology Means for Our Health.” VSP Real World Solutions in Partnership with The Atlantic “Re:think.” https://visionbenefits.vsp.com/content-hub/articles/digital-eye-strain.html
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