Eye care

UnitedHealthcare advises workers on screentime and bluelight – Employee Benefit News

For those working from home, their environment may seem relatively risk-free. However, from the moment employees log in to the moment they sign off, there may be one hazard they cannot avoid: blue light.

Blue light is a color within the visible light spectrum with a shorter wavelength, and as a result, a higher energy output. Exposure to blue light, which is in our devices’ screens, can lead to digital eye strain and impacts the body’s circadian rhythm when used at night, making it harder to go to sleep, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Dr. Scott Edmonds, chief eye care officer at UnitedHealthcare Vision, believes blue light may also pose a serious threat to people’s eye health down the line.

“While short-term effects on the retina are negligible, we are concerned about long-term risks to the retina from overexposure,” says Dr. Edmonds. “We know being hunched over a computer for 13 hours a day leads to irritated eyes and vision headaches, but [blue light] has been implicated in age-related macular degeneration.”

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Notably, the American Academy of Ophthalmology claims there’s no firm scientific evidence that blue light damages the eye itself; people receive more blue light from the sun than their screens. Harvard Health even states that blue light from electronic devices will not increase the risk of macular degeneration and has found no current evidence that proves blue light lenses will protect the retina.

That being said, several studies have observed that ultraviolet UVA light, which is in high-energy blue light, can cause eye damage in mice. A study titled “Biological effects of blocking blue and other visible light on the mouse retina” did find that blocking blue light, along with other visible wavelengths of light, offered protection from light-induced damage to the retina.

Regardless of the mixed views on blue light, that does not mean workers shouldn’t care for their eyes on the job. Dr. Edmonds advises people to position their screens at least 30 inches away from their eyes and take consistent breaks using the 20-20-20 rule: After looking at a screen for 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.

“When you look off into the distance, you’re converging eye muscles straighten and go to the rest position,” Dr. Scott says. “This is one of our routine preventative strategies for digital eye strain.”

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Dr. Scott also recommends workers step away from the screen entirely to go for a walk. Going outside and allowing your eyes to look into the distance may prove especially helpful when it comes to reducing the risk of developing nearsighted vision, which affects 41% of Americans today, according to the National Eye Institute. However, care can’t stop there.

“Just like you need a relationship with your primary care provider, we want you to have a relationship with your eye care professional,” says John Ryan, the CEO of UnitedHealthcare Vision. “You should have the ability to visit an eye care professional and have a routine eye exam.”

For Ryan, access to eye care means employees can have conversations about digital eye strain or worsened headaches that come with using a screen from 9-to-5. And someone who has trouble sleeping may be surprised to find the root of their problem through an eye care professional rather than a medical care physician, Dr. Scott explains.

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UnitedHealthcare accounts for the use of blue light glasses and filters as well, offering coverage for lenses with blue light filtering within specific vision plans. In addition, beginning in 2022, more than 23 million UnitedHealthcare vision members get 20% off on Dell XPS laptops, which contain blue-light-blocking properties. Members also have up to 50% off on screen filters. Dr. Scott notes some devices already come with a “night mode”, a setting that reduces the amount of blue light emitted.

“Not everyone uses their glasses when they’re on a device, and not everyone needs vision correction,” says Ryan. “A screen filter is a simple, easy way to protect employees.”

Ryan believes that in order to think about the overall health of employees, blue light has to be a consideration, especially for those working from home all day in front of their laptops and monitors. And whether solutions come in the shape of healthy practices, filters, glasses or all of the above, it’s up to the consumer’s discretion.

“We really do see vision care as holistic, with blue light being a piece of that,” says Ryan. “But the more we can facilitate an open dialogue around how we’re all coping in times of work-from-home, the more strategies we can have that better serve our health.”

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