The latest glasses trend, blue light technology, is being questioned by some industry experts who say some consumers are being misled by unsubstantiated marketing messages.
In the last few years some lens manufacturers and certain optical retailers have started to promote specialist treatments on clear lenses that claim to reduce the amount of "harmful Blue Light" reaching the eye that is emitted by digital devices. They claim that reducing the amount of Blue Light can positively impact sleep patterns, digital eye strain and even macular degeneration.
The messages have made an impact, with Australian average Google searches on the topic tripling from 2004 to todayi and sales of glasses continuing. A recent consumer studyii found that 66% of Australian recipients were concerned about the risks of blue light to eyes, only marginally below the overall concern to those concerned about UV light at 78%.
However, industry experts are calling on consumers to understand the truth before they invest in the trend as researchiii shows one hour outside on an overcast day projects 30 times more blue light than one hour in front of a screen.
Professor Stephen Dain from UNSW's Optometry and Vision Science Research Department says: "The digital dose of blue light is vanishingly small in comparison to what you would get from simply spending time outside in the sun. This means the need for blue blocking lenses for when you're using your computer, watching your television or using your phone under normal lighting inside is absolutely unnecessary."
In a statement last week from the International Commission on Illumination, it was stated that: It is recognised that during normal behaviour, we experience transient exposures to high light levels, and may get many such exposures per day. However accumulation of these exposures over the day will not result in the exposure limits being exhausted.
On top of this, in October 2018, professional evidence on the efficacy of Blue Light blocking lenses was issued by the UK optometry industry body, The College of Optometrists, which stated that: The best scientific evidence currently available does not support the use of blue-blocking spectacle lenses in the general population to improve visual performance, alleviate the symptoms of eye fatigue or visual discomfort, improve sleep quality or conserve macula health.
The College of Optometrists has made it clear that anyone selling Blue Light blocking spectacle lenses should make their customers aware that there is no strong evidence that Blue Light blocking spectacle lenses are an appropriate solution.
Specsavers optometrist Jimmy Park says that many of his customers ask about blue light lenses and while there's no scientific evidence that the lenses will work, digital eye strain is more common than ever before.
"As technology becomes more engrained in everyday life, digital screen time is increasing with most adults staring at screens for more than 6 hours per dayiv. Digital eye strain is on the rise and there are some simple ways to help with this that don't require financial investment.
"Firstly, I recommend that people take regular breaks from their screen or device. An easy way of remembering to do this is the 20,20,20 rule. Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Another tip is to stay hydrated and blink regularly. When you look at things near to your face, like a book or a screen, it is normal to slow and decrease your blinking. This can lead to dryness and irritated eyes.
"If you're worried about sleeping, you could try limiting screen time at night, using the 'night time' option on your screen or device and turning down the brightness level.
"Ultimately, if you're worried about your eyes in any way, the best thing to do is get professional advice from an optometrist at a bulk-billed eye health check," says Jimmy.
Question: What are the blue light technology glasses?
Jimmy Park: Blue light technology glasses are clear lenses that have had specialist treatments to block out blue light rays.
Question: Why do you believe consumers are being misled by the advertising associated with blue light glasses?
Jimmy Park: In the last few years some lens manufacturers and certain optical retailers have started to promote specialist treatments on clear lenses that claim to reduce the amount of "harmful Blue Light" reaching the eye that is emitted by digital devices. They claim that reducing the amount of Blue Light can positively impact sleep patterns, digital eye strain and even macular degeneration.
Unfortunately, many of these marketing messages are unsubstantiated and are subsequently misleading some consumers.
Question: Would you suggest that wearing blue light glasses are unnecessary?
Jimmy Park: After in-depth global consultations with independent industry experts, Specsavers has determined that the best scientific evidence currently available does not support the use of Blue Light blocking lenses. The most recent evidence suggests that only extreme and sustained exposure to Blue Light might cause damage to the eye.
In reality, the amount emitted from digital devices is much lower. There is actually more blue light emitted from the sun, which is why it's always important to wear sunglasses with full protection when outside – especially during the Aussie summer and even on those cloudy, overcast days.
Question: What harm does long-term blue-light use do to the eyes?
Jimmy Park: As said above, the most recent evidence shows that blue light from digital screens is unlikely to cause damage to the eyes. However blue light from the sun is worth protecting your eyes from and you do this with sunglasses.
Sunglasses are great because they not only assist with clearer vision, but they also shield the sensitive skin around your eyelids while also helping to prevent eye strain and potential eye conditions such as cataracts, macular degeneration and pterygium.
Question: What is the difference between sun and device light?
Jimmy Park: We could get very complex here, but very basically, sunlight is made up of different wavelengths of light, which are different colours, shapes and frequency. Essentially, when the wavelengths are seen together, light appears to look white.
Blue wavelengths of light have been getting a lot of attention lately as opposed to any other colours because most devices like smartphones and computers emit predominantly blue light than other colours and in much lower intensities than direct sunlight.
But research has shown that one hour outside on an overcast day projects 30 times more blue light than one hour in front of a screen. This is why at Specsavers, we say the best thing you can do is to wear sunglasses when you're outside.
Question: What should we be doing instead of buying these glasses?
Jimmy Park: Ultimately if you're concerned about anything to do with your eyes, the best thing to do is to book an eye health check.
At Specsavers, we don't support blue light blocking lenses so if you're concerned about digital eyestrain, on top of an eye health check, you can try these 4 easy ideas:
1) take regular breaks from your screen or device;
2) look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes;
3) stay hydrated and blink regularly, and
4) use the 'night time' option on your screen or device and turn down the brightness level.
Interview by Brooke Hunter