Troubleshooter: The dangers of blue light - and do blue light glasses help?

It's something we're exposed to every day, and it could be doing serious damage to your health, even your children.

We're talking about blue light.

Blue light is part of the natural light spectrum, and some exposure is good for you, but Dr. Monica Ma with Parkside Eye Care in Cary said many of the problems she's seeing in patients are caused by artificial blue light from cell phones, computers, tablets and LED light bulbs.

"Disrupting your sleep patterns, making your eyes more dry, having blurring vision, getting headaches and overall eye strain," she explained.

Since most of us can't avoid working in front of a computer screen all day, Dr. Ma says more people are turning to blue light filtering glasses for protection.

"I recommended it if they A: are on the computer for long periods of time and B: complain about digital eye strain."

Blue light isn't just a problem for adults, think of the screen time your kids are getting, especially right before bed.

"Increased exposure to blue light decreases our natural melatonin and messes up our sleep cycle. So increased blue light can affect your kid's sleep, how much they're sleeping and the quality of sleep," Dr. Ma said. She also suggests children avoid screen time for at least two to three hours before they go to bed.

Blue light or "computer" glasses can filter out the potentially harmful blue light. Maureen Scher is an optician who has studied the impacts of blue light for the last several years.

"Twenty-five years ago people weren't using computers and tablets and smartphones and certainly not the way that they are now," Scher said.

Maureen showed us some of the different options available through Parkside Eye Care Center.

In the image below you can see the difference between the options. The first picture has no blue-light filter on the lens, and the three other options provide different layers of protection. The one that filters out the most blue light is the BLUTECH lens which contains pigmentation on the lens giving it a tinted look. Maureen adds, "They all filter out blue light really well, but obviously the tinted, pigmented lens is going to do a little bit of a better job."

Getting blue-light lenses from an optometrist can cost about $200, even if you don't have a prescription. We found options online for as low as $10. We bought two pairs from Amazon, this pair for $8.99 and this pair for $39.95. Maureen agreed to test both to see if they filter out blue light.

When it comes to buying glasses online that claim to filter out blue light Maureen says any amount of protection is probably a good thing, but she has one caution for anyone considering purchasing glasses without seeing a professional, "The problem with getting them online they're not regulated by the FDA. So anything that's not regulated I can't recommend."

We did reach out to both companies who sold the glasses on Amazon for comment; neither one got back to us.

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How well did they work? We did some testing of blue-light filtering glasses.

Kate Clark says she often suffered from migraines after a long day of work on the computer.

About eight months ago, she went to the eye doctor and bought a pair of blue-light filtering glasses and couldn't be happier, "I definitely feel much more rested. I'm not having migraines anymore, so definitely worth it for me."

If you don't want to spend the money on blue-light glasses, there are some other ways you can protect your eyes.

Dr. Ma said to avoid screen time two to three hours before bed. If you must use a device, use a blue-light filter or "night time" option on your device. You can find that under settings on your phone or device. Also, always remember the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of screen time, look away about 20 feet for at least 20 seconds.

When it comes to the long-term health impacts of exposure to blue light, Dr. Ma said there are no long-term studies to indicate how too much exposure to blue light might impact us years from now - but she adds: "Our speculation is because our eye has natural filters for UV it does not have natural filters for blue light so it may be damaging our retina and leading to macular degeneration at a faster rate."
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