Those days are over – you can easily protect your sight.
This song is becoming more and more familiar these days. Protection from the ever-present blue light is everywhere, and there’s more products now than ever that offer some form of protection from it. But as more and more products come out on the market, how can we tell them apart? Products range from lenses that use a built-in ocular lens pigment – such as BluTech® Lenses, to anti-reflective coatings that deflect blue light, such as Independence Tech®.
There’s also a debate between ‘clear lenses’ or ‘colored lenses’ when it comes to blocking blue light. Since every product that gets released is the ‘best product available’ (so the manufacturers tell me), how do we figure out what these things actually do? Are they all the same?
I’m not sure about anyone else, but I like to see what’s going on with the products that I buy. When I go shopping for sunscreen, it’s easy to know what I’m getting. Every bottle – regardless of manufacturer – is going to be labeled in a clear and consistent manner. Thanks to government regulations, I can choose how much protection I want, based on the SPF rating of the sunscreen. After I buy the product, it’s also really easy to tell whether or not it’s working correctly. If I put on sunscreen, sit out in the sun, and get burned, then I know that maybe I didn’t have enough protection. When it comes to our eyes, however, there’s no way to compare products easily and no way to know how much the protection is actually working. Since there’s no government regulations on a protection scale for blue light eyewear, it comes down to the eyecare professional (that’s you) to determine what protection each product actually offers. You also need to keep in mind that any ratings you do see on products are going to be made by the product manufacturer. These are, of course, going to put their own products in a favorable light. I don’t know about you, but when I see a ‘protection rating scale’ that’s a registered trademark of the company telling me how great their product is, I get skeptical.
My point here is not to say there’s anything wrong with these products or that they don’t work, but rather to illustrate the fact that simply saying ‘blue light protection’ is no longer sufficient. We actually need to break down the entire spectrum of light and look at each band independently. There tends to be three major ‘zones’ of high-energy visible light when it comes to eye health: the 400-440nm range focuses on both blue light and glare, as well as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), while the 459-484nm range has sleep and other health impacts.
Can’t Stand Seeing Blue
The first segment of ‘blue light’ at 400-420nm is where we find the highest energy light in our range, which means it has a higher tendency to scatter when it contacts other molecules (air, dust, etc.). This scattering also causes these wavelengths to not to be focused the same as other colors when they enter the eye. Since it scatters more, we perceive extra glare and chromatic aberration in our vision. As it’s also more difficult for the eye to focus on this light, it works harder trying to adjust your vision to get it into focus. That can lead to fatigue and eyestrain. This tends to be the area of ‘blue light’ that most lenses and coatings focus on. It’s the easiest to block, and the most immediately noticeable to the patient. By visibly reducing glare, different products can seem similar to each other.
Every Little Thing She Does… might contribute to Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) is one of the big issues that we still can’t do a whole lot about. The treatment options are limited, and it can happen with little to no warning. As such, it’s become important to try and do everything that we can to prevent it, as it is the leading cause of blindness in those over 50. There are a number of factors that contribute to AMD, especially genetics and lifestyle. Studies have indicated, however, that high-energy blue-violet light can damage or destroy cells in the retina. This cell death can potentially lead to AMD, demonstrating the harm that this type of light can do to a patient. It should therefore be strongly encouraged that patients with high risk factors for AMD protect their eyes from the potential risks of AMD.
Bring On The Night
The vast majority of blue light lenses on the market don’t address ranges above the 440nm wavelength. Exposure to light in the wavelengths from 459-484nm can cause large disruptions to our sleep cycles. Thanks to the prevalence of technology today, however, this is one of the most important areas that we need to protect against. All of our gadgets – TVs, laptops, phones, tablets, etc – emit light in this wavelength. That might not be bad in and of itself, but this light is what tells our brain that it’s time to wake up. Light in this range triggers the brain to suppress melatonin production, which throws off our sleep cycles. Regulation of sleep cycles can be especially important for children, as the prevalence of technology these days is exposing them to this light at earlier ages than ever before. This can be especially important for children, as making sure their sleep cycles remain uninterrupted is extremely important. When I walk into my six-year-olds room at 5:30 in the morning and she says “Finally, you’re up!”, I know her sleep cycle might be a little off.
One option is, of course, to just go ‘technology free’ at night. I don’t see that happening, however, as I know I have to check my email at least a half dozen times before going to sleep at night. Since that’s not going to change any time soon, having some protection is probably a good idea. That’s where lenses like BluTech come in handy, as they are one of the few lens options that blocks this range of light in addition to the other ones I’ve already discussed.
Every Lens You Make
When it comes to lenses, there are a few different options to control blue light, namely: blocking, deflecting, and filtering. The concept of blocking blue light became popular in the 80’s, but in general, new products don’t tend to simply block blue light. This can affect color perception and compromise vision, which can can be especially dangerous when driving.
Deflecting blue light is what most of the ‘blue light’ anti-reflective coatings do. These coatings usually deflect 20% of the blue light in the shorter wavelengths (usually 415-455nm). This deflection is what gives this type of anti-reflective coating its signature ‘blue’ color. Since the light is being deflected away from the eyes of the person wearing the lenses, everyone else perceives this extra light being bounced back, hence the color.
Filtering is something that some lenses do naturally, such as UV protection being inherent in a number of different materials. The materials themselves, however, don’t address the high-energy visible light unless they are specially created for that purpose. One of the more popular lenses uses ocular lens pigment (OLP) to help protect the eye between 400-500nm, allowing more light the closer to 500nm you get, which helps preserve color perception, while still giving maximum protection.
Don’t Get Stung
The most important thing that you need to do when you’re looking for blue light protection is doing your own research. You want to make sure you get all of the information on the product that you’re going to use, as you don’t want to find out later that you weren’t getting the protection that you thought you were. If someone brings you a new blue-light solution, make sure you get a chart detailing what specific wavelengths of light it affects, and by how much. You also want to know if the products blocks, deflects, or filters light, and by how much. Many of the newer products tout that they are ‘clear’ or the protection doesn’t ‘affect the color’ – but you have to make sure that it’s protecting against the same things as other blue-light products. In the mean time, until you get your own pair of BluTech lenses, be sure you don’t stand so close to your digital devices.
– Bill “Other Bill” Heffner, IV
Director of IT, Marketing and Sales, FEA Industries, Inc.