Many of us come home from work with our eyes tired, itchy, or burning. Not only do we spend eight or more hours staring at a computer screen, but we toil under the unforgiving, harsh fluorescent lights that are the workplace lighting of choice at most companies since they are fairly inexpensive and able to light large areas. It’s no wonder that our baby-blues suffer the consequences.
What Are Fluorescent Lights and How Do They Harm Your Eyes?
Yes, they are annoying; they often flicker, or hum, and they cast a horrible light that makes us look like corpses. But vanity and small frustrations could be easily put aside if the problems caused by the fluorescent lights were not more serious.
Fluorescent light fixtures work by discharging light under low pressure using mercury vapors. They produce visible light around 438 nanometers (nm), which is in the middle of blue light spectrum range, and working in an environment that is illuminated by them can cause serious medical issues:
- Eye strain (burning, watery, itchy, or sore eyes)
- Double and blurred vision
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Lack of concentration
We cannot blame only the ghastly long tubes of overhead fluorescent lighting fixtures for our vision troubles.
In recent times we are turning more and more towards compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which save energy and protect the environment. Those white spirals have almost replaced the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs as they can last 10-15 times longer. Of course, we should care about saving energy. But just like the ugly, flickering tubes in schools, warehouses, hospitals, and big-box retail stores, these little “do-gooders” can cause the same symptoms.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health reveals that extended exposure to both CFLs and traditional fluorescent lights can contribute to eye diseases like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, as these lights emit an unhealthy amount of high-energy visible blue light (HEV) and ultraviolet (UV) light rays. (Source, link)
What Are Blue Lights and UV Lights?
Most people already know that sunlight contains visible and invisible light rays, but light is a little bit more complex than you might think. We receive visible (and sometimes invisible) light not only from the sun, but every time we turn on the light inside, flick our smart phone on, or open our laptop.
The light is composed of several differently colored light rays that all have different wavelengths and different amounts of energy. Together, this electromagnetic radiation spectrum creates sunlight or white light. The longer the wavelength, the lesser the energy; the shorter the wavelength, the higher the energy.
The visible light spectrum is created by electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between 380 nanometers (nm) to 700 nm. Blue light rays are called high-energy visible lights (HEV), as they have the shortest wavelength ranging from 380 to 500 nm. We sometimes refer to them as blue-violet or violet lights. Ultra-violet (UV) light rays are just beyond the visible light spectrum.
Where Does Blue Light Come from?
For thousands of years the sun was the main source of lighting, and people spent their evenings in darkness broken only by a flicker of a candle or an eerie illumination of a gas lamp. Then, Thomas Edison created a modern lightbulb and introduced artificial lighting, which has revolutionized our world and allowed us to be productive after sunset and before sunrise.
We get the majority of our blue light from the sun during the day, but every source of artificial lighting emits also blue light rays, including:
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- LED light bulb
- Gaming systems
- Computer monitors
- Tablet screens
- Smartphone screens
The light from the sun, our digital devices, and fluorescent bulbs appears white to the normal eye, but there are a lot of HEV (high energy visible lights) blue lights that reach us, and our eyes are not designed for extended hours of blue light exposure. These additional amounts of blue light we receive after dark or while at work can lead to many health problems.
Is Blue Light Harmful?
Since we are spending more and more time glued to our digital devices and working under harsh fluorescent light fixtures, researchers are studying the effects of the unfiltered blue light to our vision and overall health. The results are not conclusive, as this is an ongoing project, but here are some complications that might arise from a prolonged exposure to blue light:
- Macular degeneration, which is a leading cause of blindness as you get older.
- Symptoms of digital eye strain, which can include blurry vision, dry and irritated eyes, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and neck and back pain.
- Problems with metabolism and regulating blood sugar levels
How Do Blue Light Blocking Glasses Work?
Blue-violet light reaches our eyes unfiltered, which means that it penetrates deep into the eye, all the way to the retina. It’s safe to say that an extended exposure to blue light can damage the light-sensitive cells and cause many adverse effects to our vision.
Blue light blocking glasses have a layer that filters blue-violet light that is radiating from our LED screens and fluorescent lights. They do not block out all the blue light, as blue light is beneficial to our health in moderate amounts: it boosts our energy and mood, makes us more alert and productive, and suppresses the production of melatonin, which could make us drowsy while we still have to finish a few spreadsheets.
Blue light filters eliminate the most harmful frequencies that fall in the range between 400 and 440nm, which can help ease many of the symptoms linked with the extended use of digital devices and exposure to the fluorescent lights. They still allow some blue light to come through to keep us in sync with natural day-night cycles, while helping our eyes relax and feel less strain.
It is safe to say that wearing blue light blocking glasses while exposed to the unyielding glare of the fluorescent lights, as well as our digital devices, can alleviate the adverse effects of unfiltered blue light. Not only is it beneficial to our productivity, mood, and energy levels, but it can reduce the harmful consequences to our eyes that might cause many serious medical issues.
The newest study by École d’Optométrie from the University of Montreal found that:
- Wearing special-purpose glasses treated with a blue-light filter coating helps reduce symptoms of eye strain by half during prolonged blue light exposure.
- After wearing glasses with a blue-light filter coating, people who experienced symptoms of eye strain due to prolonged blue light exposure felt a significant improvement of the following symptoms: sticky eyes, itchy eyes, dry eyes, and the feeling of grittiness or "sand" in the eyes.
- They also noticed an indication of the overall vision and improved visual performances in situations of low contrast.
We cannot go to work and turn off all the lights just to be safe. We cannot control what our employers mandate to cut cost on the overhead. But we have to be aware of all the consequences we will suffer while being exposed to great amounts of blue light. The answer could be right before your eyes – wearing blue light blocking glasses can decrease the risk of macular degeneration, ease the eye strain, increase the clarity of your vision, and prevent your eyes from getting the “floaties”.
Even if you don’t need vision correction, you should still get a pair of blue light blocking glasses – your eyes will thank you, and you’ll look very stylish while protecting them!