Our Complete Guide to Blue Light and Dry Eye
We talk a lot about both blue light and dry eye. Both are threats to our eye health in today’s world. But how are the two connected? The answers may surprise you.
This article offers basic health information intended to empower our patients to live their healthiest lives. It isn’t intended as a substitute for professional and medical care. We hope you use the information we provide to help you make informed decisions alongside the personalized advice from your medical professionals.
What is Blue Light?
Blue light gets a bad rap lately, but is a natural and healthy part of our lives on Earth. The sun is our most significant natural source and hopefully, our biggest source of blue light. It serves as a signal to our brain that it is daytime and time to be awake and alert.
However, like everything, too much of a good thing becomes detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Blue light also has a short wavelength and high energy. It stresses and damages the eyes with too much exposure. To add insult to injury, the modern device-oriented lifestyle exposes us to blue light throughout the day and the night.
Smartphone or tablet displays, LED television sets, LED light bulbs, computer monitors, and indicator lights are just some of the unnatural sources of blue light many of us encounter every day.
Hours spent playing video games, watching television or streaming YouTube, and browsing on our smartphones all contribute to eye strain, blue light-related damage, and dry eye. Besides, many people also have jobs that involve using a computer all day, and then they come home to relax watching streaming media or browsing their social media feeds.
Over-exposure of blue light often leads to sleep disruption (remember blue light signals wake time in our natural body rhythms). It also contributes to eye strain and possibly dry eyes. Too much exposure to blue light might be associated with an increased risk of macular degeneration.
What is Dry Eye?
Dry eye refers to a condition where the eyes are unable to produce enough tears to keep the eyes lubricated, or the tear quality is poor. The most obvious symptom is a sensation of dryness in the eyes.
Tears are more complex than many realize. Your tear system has three layers:
- An oily layer – this layer is on the outside and keeps your tears from drying too soon.
- A watery layer – this middle layer is what most people think of when they think of ‘tears.” It serves to moisturize the eyes and to wash debris and dust from the eyes.
- A mucus layer – this inner layer helps spread the watery layer over the eyes.
With such a sophisticated system, there are more opportunities for things to go wrong.
The Mayo Clinic describes some symptoms of dry eye, including:
- Light sensitivity
- A burning or stinging sensation in the eyes
- Red eyes
- The feeling like something is in the eyes possibly something gritty
- Trouble using contact lenses
- Difficulty driving at night
- Blurry vision
- Tired feeling eyes
- Ironically watery eyes which are the body’s attempt to correct the irritation
Many people experience dry eye triggered by a variety of causes such as seasonal allergies, a side-effect to medication, hormone changes, tear gland inflammation, or possibly even too much blue light exposure.
Be sure and discuss your dry eye symptoms with your optometrist. The causes vary, and in some cases, the condition may require medical intervention. In some cases, dry eyes can result in eye infection or damage to the eye.
Here are a few tips to prevent dry eye or alleviate it:
- Wear sunglasses outside, be sure to choose a pair that blocks UV light as this can damage the eyes. The glasses also shield the eyes from the wind.
- Avoid blowing air into the eyes; some examples include heaters, air conditioning, fans, and hair dryers.
- Consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
- Take breaks when working at the computer or doing tasks involving intense concentration.
- Avoid smoke and consider quitting if you are a smoker.
- Try using artificial tears to lubricate the eyes.
- Position your computer monitor at an ergonomically friendly height so you can look at it without strain and keep it eye level. This way, you won’t need to force your eyes wide open to look at it.
- Discuss any medications, hormonal life changes, and health conditions with your optometrist as they may be able to suggest strategies to control or mitigate the situation.
The Connection Between Blue Light and Dry Eye
When people spend hours working on a computer or using a tablet or phone, they often stare intensely and forget to blink their eyes. This results in not only digital eye strain but also dry feeling eyes. Blinking and refocusing the eyes is essential in minimizing this risk. We urge all patients to follow the 20-20-20 exercise throughout the day. It is simple:
- Every twenty minutes, take a break from your screen time.
- Focus your eyes on a fixed, non-digital object at least 20 feet away.
- This break should last at least 20 seconds.
Of course, the 20-20-20 exercise isn’t a cure-all, but it helps prevent headaches and digital eye strain. Also, look for ways to protect your eyes from blue light and dry eye.
Some people wear blue light filtering glasses, or they put blue light filtering glass screen protectors on their phone, tablet, or smartwatch screen. Many operating systems now have a nighttime mode, which changes the monitor to display a less blue light. These tactics help protect your eyes from overexposure to blue light and dry eye.
Next Steps: Protecting You Vision Health
We hope this article helps clarify the connection between blue light and dry eye. If you experience dry eyes, be sure to discuss your symptoms with your optometrist.
If you work using a computer or accumulate hours of screen time, be sure and talk with your optometrist about how you can reduce your risk of overexposure to blue light and digital eye strain.
Finally, visit your eye doctor annually or as recommended for a vision examination and check in about your overall eye health. If you live in the Charlotte area, consider contacting Piedmont Eye Care to schedule your examination.