The average American adult spends 11 hours per day looking at a screen. Since the start of the COVID pandemic, this number has ballooned to 13+ hours. Smart phone use and TV watching certainly contribute to this number, but the top culprit for many is the computer monitor.
Knowing these statistics, brands such as ASUS, BenQ, ViewSonic, and even Dell have begun marketing “Eye Care” monitors. As the name implies, these monitors are designed to minimize the strain of extended hours of monitor viewing.
Since these monitors often come with a hefty price tag, many of us are left wondering, “Do Eye Care Monitors Work?” And if so, do they work well enough to justify spending significantly more money?
In this article, we will examine the claims and legitimacy of “eye care” and “eye saving” computer monitor technology. With the help of expert consultants, we will help you determine whether or not an eye-care monitor is worth it.
Eye Care Monitors: How Do They Work?
First, we will start by looking at “eye care” monitors and the technology they possess.
Claims made by eye care monitors
- By filtering out harmful blue light, eye-care monitors protect your eyes
- A “flicker-free” monitor will minimize eye strain and reduce blurred vision, headaches, and interruption of sleep patterns
Challenges of these claims
- Blue light is only harmful at very high doses, such as that which is emitted by the sun
- The flicker of a monitor does not damage or strain the eyes; if anything, it is simply annoying
What Does the Evidence Say?
Manufacturers of eye-care and eyesafe monitors heap a lot of praise on the products.
Many bold claims are made about this life-changing technology. These claims usually begin with a discussion of minimizing eye strain, and end with a discussion of eliminating headaches, eye damage, and restoring healthful sleep.
Because most of us spend hours per day at our computer straining our eyes, the “eye-saving” messages really appeal to us. Almost everyone has experienced dry eyes, strained eyes, blurred vision, or headaches that were caused by excessive screen time. Digital eye strain (“computer vision syndrome”) affects over half of the population.
In truth, most of these “eye-care” and “eyesafe” monitors rely on the two features discussed above — blue light filtering and flicker-free displays. So let’s look into each of these technologies.
(1) Blue light filtering
First, marketers begin with the statement that blue light is dangerous to our eyes, skin, and sleep patterns. This is factually correct, but somewhat intellectually dishonest.
Let’s turn to an expert for a better explanation. As Dr. Norman Shedlo, Optometrist and owner of the Eyecare Center of Maryland, puts it:
“It’s true that blue and ultraviolet light are dangerous to eyes, but only at very high intensities. The amount of blue light produced by a computer monitor or phone screen is so dim that it has no effect on the health of the eyes. The blue and UV light from the sun is very dangerous and is a documented source of skin cancer, cataracts and retina disease to millions. This is why doctors recommend sunglasses and sunscreen to people spending significant time outdoors.”– Dr. Norman Shedlo
So, blue light filtering on a computer monitor isn’t a game-changing technology. It may provide some benefit, to be sure. But there isn’t anything particularly advanced or technologically impressive about a monitor that has this feature.
Most new modern monitors allow for the adjustment or filtering of blue light. Windows 10 has a “night light” mode that reduces blue light emission. There are also third-party applications available that allow you to modulate or filter the amount of blue light coming from your monitor display.
To summarize: Exposure to high intensity blue light can be harmful. However, a computer monitor only causes a low exposure. It may be helpful to minimize blue light emission from your computer monitor. But this isn’t a technologically advanced feature that justifies your spending extra money.
(2) Flicker-free displays
If you have ever noticed the flicker of a monitor or other display, you will agree that the flicker can be aggravating and unpleasant to look at. But the important question here is whether or not a “flicker-free” monitor does anything to protect your eyes.
Again, we turn to the experts. Dr. Shedlo tells us that “flicker rates between 70-90 Hz will present a screen that does not appear to ‘flicker’. The flickering itself is not dangerous to your eyes, it’s just annoying. Flicker rates above this are outside the range of human perception and make absolutely no difference. These rates have no effect on eye strain.”
We discussed the topic with Dr. Yuna Rapoport, an Ophthalmologist and owner of Manhattan Eye.
Most of the eye strain that occurs happens because of dry eye and decreased blink. So, while special flicker free monitors and monitor lamps seem fancy and may provide a better user experience, from a medical point of view they do not ‘save the eyes.’– Dr. Yuna Rapoport
The Bottom Line: Do Eye Care Monitors Work?
We asked our experts a few simple questions: Would you recommend a special eye care monitor for a friend or family member? And would you pay extra for an eye saving monitor?
Dr. Rapoport stated that she does not “think that they are worth the extra price,” and she “would not get one for myself or for a loved one.”
Dr. Shedlo replied that he “would not pay extra for any eye health benefits claimed by these technologies.”
If we are looking solely at the science and the expert advice, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that eye care monitors actually improve eye health.
Counterpoints to the above
As we have previously discussed, blue light has been proven to cause eye damage. So, even though computer monitors don’t release excessive amounts of blue light, it is logical to minimize our blue light exposure.
Even though operating systems (like Windows 10) and third-party applications allow users to reduce blue lighting on their computer monitor, most of us don’t use these features. Therefore, purchasing an “eye care” monitor that automatically includes blue light reduction/filtering may provide some benefit. At worst, this reduction of blue light is neutral, and at best it may benefit our eyes to some degree.
Next, a flicker-free screen may be more comfortable to your eyes. We have established that the flickering of a computer screen isn’t harmful to your eyes. But this flickering can absolutely be irritating to the user. Needless to say, keeping your vision comfortable and aggravation-free during hours of daily screen time is preferrable to an uncomfortable experience.
Finally, we should acknowledge that some monitors have received the “Eyesafe Display Standard” from TÜV Rheinland.
TÜV Rheinland is a respected testing and certification organization for hazard monitoring of various products. Generally speaking, a product that is certified by this organization can be trusted to minimize the particular hazard or danger that was being evaluated.
So, the fact that a number of computer monitors now have this “eyesafe” certification is undoubtedly a positive thing. However, this certification must be taken with a grain of salt.
The TÜV Rheinland stamp of approval only refers to the display’s ability to block, filter, or otherwise minimize the emission of blue light of a certain wavelength. It does not speak to the efficacy of the monitor, or its ability to actually “save” your eyes or reduce eye strain. Instead, it just shows that the particular monitor “passes the test” in terms of limiting blue light.
Do Monitor Light Bars & Lamps Help?
Is a monitor light bar good for your eyes?
The concept behind monitor lamps, monitor light bars, and monitor bias lighting is relatively simple. These products minimize the lighting contrast between your monitor and the surrounding area. A bright display in a dark room causes strain on the eyes, so it is better to have some ambient lighting near your computer.
So, these products probably help minimize eye strain when compared to using no monitor lighting at all. But that doesn’t mean that it makes sense to spend $100+ for a specialty monitor light bar that claims it will save your eyes. Ultimately, these monitor lamps and light bars are simply, as Dr. Shedlo puts it, “smaller lamps placed on the monitor to provide lighting to certain places on the desk. Their function can be substituted for by any suitable desk lamp pointed in the right direction.”
Rather than spending a big chunk of change on a specialty monitor light bar, it makes more sense to adjust the ambient lighting in your room. Many of us already have a desk lamp on our desk, and a simple lamp can be “eye saving” in the same way that a specialty product can.
What Should We Actually Do to Help Ourselves?
Although we have been critical of “eye saving” monitors, increased screen time is a legitimate concern in our society. Excessive electronics use, combined with a lack of physical activity, contributes to numerous developmental, psychological, and physical harms for users.
A 2020 report (which was sponsored by eyesafe, a developer of displays and filters for Dell, Acer, and Lenovo, we should note…) found that 94% of eye care providers are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about the impact of screen time on patients’ eyes.
All of this begs the question, “What can I do to protect my eyes while using the computer?”
- Take breaks periodically. Some experts recommend the 20/20/20 rule, which states that after 20 minutes of screen time, you should look at an object that is 20+ feet away for 20+ seconds. This gives your eyes some time to relax.
- Adjust room lighting and minimize glare. According to Conor O’Flynn, Operations Manager of O’Flynn Medical, you should “adapt your computer’s display settings to match the environment you are in. Ideally, the brightness of your screen should be the same as your surroundings,”
- Wear correct prescription glasses & get regular eye exams.
- Manage dry eye, either with artifical tears or by being more mindful of blinking rather than staring.
- Positioning & adjustment of monitor. Be sure to have a properly sized monitor to suit your needs, and have it positioned at a comfortable distance from your seated location. Adjust the display’s “contrast, colour balance, and even the overall text size so it is comfortable to read over extended periods,” says O’Flynn.
Eye Care monitors are quickly gaining market share due to their ability to reduce blue light and flicker rate. Because most of us spend hours per day staring at screens, “eye saving” technology sounds like it would be worth every penny.
However, much of this “eye saving” technology is actually just marketing hype. As Dr. Shedlo puts it, these computer companies use language that is “scientific and technical [to give] the impression of legitimate benefits based on scientific data.” But “the claims about the relationship of new monitors to eye health have no basis in reality.”
Some of the new “eye-care” and “eyesaver” monitors are legitimate, high-quality monitors that are worthy of your consideration. But don’t spend a lot of extra money on these products in the hopes of minimizing your eye strain or “saving” your eyes.
We still don’t have a “fix” for the eye strain caused by digital screens. But you can minimize the harms by taking periodic breaks, wearing correct prescription lenses, and adjusting the display brightness and ambient lighting to comfortable levels.