Question: I have been diagnosed with early-onset dry AMD so wanted to look for blue light filters, macular degeneration glasses in particular. Do you have any recommendations, please?
Answer: I am sorry to hear about your AMD. With that in mind, your intention to look for blue light filtering macular degeneration glasses is very reasonable. There are scientific reports suggesting that blue light causes retinal cell death to a considerably greater extent than longer wavelength visible light, e.g. [Phototoxic Action Spectrum on a Retinal Pigment Epithelium Model of Age-Related Macular Degeneration Exposed to Sunlight Normalized Conditions (2013) ♦ Photoprotective Effects of Blue Light Absorbing Filter against LED Light Exposure on Human Retinal Pigment Epithelial Cells In Vitro (2013) ♦ Photo-damage, photo-protection and age-related macular degeneration (2015) ♦ Blue light effect on retinal pigment epithelial cells by display devices (2017) ♦ Light action spectrum on oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage in A2E-loaded retinal pigment epithelium cells (2018)]. Another fact in favor of blue light filters is that we do have a natural blue light filter inside our eye, which may not be sufficiently effective.
Considering all of the above, wearing blue light filters may be a good choice not only for those with AMD but also for those with healthy eyes, as a preventive measure. After all, nobody knows if they have the pre-disposing factors for AMD until they get it.
However, know also that (to the best of my knowledge) there is no scientific evidence neither that blocking blue light stops or slows down the progression of AMD, nor that it doesn’t.
Your question requires several basic considerations about blue light filters for age-related macular degeneration glasses:
1. What wavelengths to filter and by how much
2. Lens tint and color distortion
3. “Clear” blue blocking lenses
4. Transitions as AMD glasses
5. Anti-Reflective (AR) coating, UV protection, and frame styles
6. The optimal trade-off (blue light protection vs. light loss/lens tint/color distortion)
7. Where to buy macular degeneration glasses
8. Alternatives to AMD glasses (sunglasses, eye supplements, over-glasses, screen protectors, apps)
Disclaimer: My interest in blue light and blue light filters is due to my problems with light sensitivity (photophobia), discomfort glare, and computer eye strain. I am not a vision scientist nor a medical doctor. Moreover, I don’t have macular degeneration and AMD is not the primary focus of GLARminŸ.
Disclosure: GLARminŸ earns a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you use the links labeled (commission link) and purchase a product. Thanks for your support!
This answer’s focus is on blue light filters for macular degeneration glasses. The considerations below are best suited for people diagnosed with early AMD who seek blue light filters or (yellow) tinted glasses in order to:
– protect their retinas from potentially damaging effects of blue light
– improve contrast sensitivity
– ease the adjusting to a dark room when coming inside on a bright day
– improve color sensitivity
Depending on the specific circumstances of your AMD, you have several other product options that are also termed macular degeneration glasses. However, this article is not about special glasses for macular degeneration in advanced stages, nor advanced electronics AMD glasses such as these, these, or these.
You might also consider taking a look at:
– this overview of all different types of blue light filters
– the article How to pick the best blue filter for your light sensitivity problem (although it is not focused on AMD) should give a good overview of human photo-biology relevant to blue light filters; moreover, the table at the bottom of the article shows the relationships between different filters’ spectral transmissions and how much blue light they block – it might help you get a feel for what you need to protect your retina
Blue blocking glasses as prevention. If you are reading this because you are concerned about prevention from AMD know that you may be fine with a weaker blue light filter than those proposed below. You might up the blue blocking rates if someone in your family (parents, siblings, grand-parents) is suffering from AMD.
1. What blue light wavelengths eyeglasses for macular degeneration should block
Science still doesn’t have definitive answers for macular degeneration treatment nor for protective mechanisms. Since blue light is suspected to contribute to the condition, it makes sense to play it safe and block all blue light: wavelengths from ~ 400 – 500nm. Note also, that most above cited reports suggest that blocking blue light up to 460 or 470nm is the most critical. Both are consistent with the following image (source: presentation by an Essilor -lens producer- expert):
Cell death in 10nm bands. According to this study, the most critical band is between 415-455nm. Blue light outside this range is about half less dangerous. Outside the blue light range (above 500nm) cell death further drops to a half, to a natural cell death rate.
Similar range(s) may be deduced from the spectral transmission properties of macular pigment – our natural blue light filter protecting the macula from blue light and subsequent damage. See: What is the best blue light filter for macular degeneration glasses for more detail on which wavelengths to block and by how much.
Thus, whether you need regular glasses or sunglasses they should block most of blue light up to 500nm. This means that their spectral transmission curve should look something like the one in the image below. The most important feature is that the transmission curve is at or near 0% from 400 – 500nm.
The rest of the curve (to the right of the 500nm mark) is not that critical and may be:
– high (80-90% as in the image below), if you need/prefer a lot of light to see well (more suitable for indoor use)
– low (15-35%) if you also wanted to block additional light (as for sunglasses for macular degeneration), or
– somewhere in between depending on your personal preferences
How to read spectrograms:
The curve starts out near 0% transmission at 400nm (bottom left corner), meaning it blocks nearly all light at that wavelength. Moreover, it continues to do so up to about 490nm. (As suggested, light near 500nm and above should be safe, i.e. it shouldn’t cause damage to your retina). Above 490nm the filter’s transmission increases steeply. Transmission at 500nm is about 20%, meaning that 80% of that particular light wavelength is blocked, which still a reasonably high protection. However, already at ~ 525nm, this filter lets through most light, over 80%. This is good if you need the most light you can get to see well but without the potentially dangerous blue light.
(In case you are interested, the spectrogram above belongs to a filter that has a yellow tint – Filter 2 in this image).
To appreciate the effect of such filter on spectral power distribution (SPD) of LED back-lit PC screen. The black curve shows unfiltered SPD and the rainbow shows filtered SPD of the same computer screen.
A filter (similar to that described above) eliminates completely the high-intensity peak of light in the blue range (400-500nm) – click on the image for full size (data source).
2. AMD glasses, lens tint, and color distortion
You can’t block blue light and see it too! That means that if you use macular degeneration glasses that filter all blue light or a considerable proportion of it (as recommended above):
– they will distort color, most notably the blues will look darker (black if 100% of blue light is blocked) and white will look yellow, amber (or even orange – but that might be an overkill for AMD, except maybe in bright sunlight)
– the lenses on such glasses will also appear yellow, amber, or orange (for more on this subject see Blue light blockers and color distortion: Could there be none).
Simply put, there is a trade-off: the more blue light you want to block, the greater color distortion you have to live with. See section 6 below on how you can figure out what is the optimal balance for you.
3. What about blue blocking macular degeneration glasses that look clear?
You might be recommended glasses with blue blocking lenses that don’t look tinted. Normally they use blue reflective technology. You can easily recognize a blue reflective coating by the blue reflection (shimmer) on the lenses at certain angles particularly outdoors where there is a lot of blue light. Compare the two glasses below – one uses amber tint that absorbs blue light, the other uses a coating that reflects it – I suppose it is easy to tell which is which (the image was taken at night under a halogen and an LED 2700K bulbs which emit almost no blue light – in sunlight the blue reflection would be stronger).
In addition to the (nearly) invisible blue blocking technology, their main advantages are that you can:
– get them in almost any prescription
– wear most/all of these for driving at night (stronger blue blockers -with less than 80% overall visible light transmission- are not category 0 ophthalmic lenses and thus illegal/discouraged for driving at night)
However, these lenses don’t block a significant proportion of blue light – click the links below to view respective spectrograms:
– Zeiss DuraVision BlueProtect
– Nikon SeeCoat Blue Premium
– PFO Global iBlu Coat
– Essilor Crizal Prevencia or/and Smart Blue Filter (these two may be applied to the same (transitions) lens thus providing slightly greater protection from blue light) – Smart Blue Filter has a built-in blue block monomer (the third blue blocking technology that does not reflect blue light)
To get an approximate idea of the blue blocking effectiveness of lenses with this type of spectral transmission profile, see the following spectrogram of a filtered (rainbow) vs. unfiltered (black curve) spectral power distribution of an LED back-lit PC screen – click to view full size:
Remember that the filter recommended in section 1 above completely eliminated the blue peak (no light below 500nm was coming through).
These lenses also distort color, although not by much. In line with section 2. above, low color distortion implies low blue blocking capacity. To see just how much they distort color, put such lenses against white paper. The paper behind the lens should be a bit darker (off-white/yellowish).
Careful with the blue reflecting coating on the inside of the lens. The blue reflecting technology used for filtering blue light presents a potential problem, particularly outdoors. Some of these lenses tend to reflect blue light not only on the outside (away from user’s eyes), but also on the inside (into the users eyes) – the image below is from the same glasses as above:
More on blue reflection into the user’s eyes is shown in this 8 min video:
Therefore, if you intend to use your AMD glasses outdoors look out for the blue reflection on the inside of the lens. If you cannot avoid lenses that reflect blue light on the inside, you might consider wearing a hat when outside.
If you need prescription glasses see what other options are available to you in this post on best blue blocking glasses.
Moreover, if you need special prescription lenses for your macular degeneration glasses you might consider ordering online from ReadingGlassesETC – single vision lenses (commission link), or MojoOptical – multifocal and progressive lenses. You might also consider transitions with those for increased blue light protection.
4. Transitions as macular degeneration glasses
Consider also transitions if you need glasses with special prescription lenses. They may be particularly interesting because transition lenses can be combined with blue blocking coatings described above (section 3). As a result, blue light blocking capacity is further increased, particularly outside, when transitions are in the activated mode and where you need protection from blue light the most.
Spectral transmission data for transitions show two curves for each lens – for fully unactivated and fully activated state (when transition lens is at its lightest and its darkest, respectively). Unfortunately, transmission spectra for transition lenses are quite difficult to find.
Below you can compare brown and grey transition lens of two different transition lenses. Note that brown tint is slightly more effective at filtering blue light because it has more yellow in it (data source).
Note that the authors of this image define blue light as light from about 380nm to 480nm. As suggested above, there are different interpretations what blue light is.
When not activated (e.g. indoors, in a car) these lenses are quite similar in transmission to those discussed in section 3, above. In their active state (in bright sunlight) their transmission drops below 20% all the way up to 600nm. When activated (e.g. outdoors) they offer close to full protection from blue light.
Hence, when transitions are combined with a blue reflective coating, you get roughly double protection from blue light than you would by using just one or the other indoors and near-full blue light protection in bright sunlight. The 20min video below explains the dangers of blue light (first half) and how the combinations of coatings and transitions increase protection from blue light (second half):
Glasses with such, combined lenses can be ordered online from ReadingGlassesETC – single vision lenses (commission link), or MojoOptical – multifocal and progressive lenses.
5. Anti-Reflective coatings, UV protection, and frame styles
AR coating is always a plus on any glasses. Its function is to help improve your visual comfort by reducing reflections on the surface of your lenses. However, know that AR coating does not block blue light.
UV protection is something to be concerned about (but for reasons other than AMD, because very little UV light reaches our retinas – see image below: source).
It is good that you check on UV protection before buying. However, nowadays blocking UV has become a standard – any eyewear and particularly macular degeneration glasses that filter blue light will also most likely block 100% UV, namely all light up to 400nm (UV400 label).
Wraparound frame styles that can sit close to the face shield your eyes the best. Glasses with smaller lenses sitting far away from the face might be OK for indoor use (if artificial lighting does not contain a lot of blue light) and computer work.
6. The optimal blue light filter for you
You might be confused by now. How can you decide well on the trade-off between blue light protection and color distortion/loss of visible light? After all, you want to protect your eyes from blue light, but you also need to allow for enough light to see.
First, you should know that for our sharp vision that is affected the most by AMD blue light is not only useless but also a nuisance. The photoreceptors at the center of the macula (red and green cones), that are responsible for detail vision, are most sensitive to red and green light. Therefore, in principle, you should not be concerned about the loss of blue light.
However, there are other considerations. For example, if you have high macular pigment optical density (MPOD), you might find an additional, external blue light filter disturbing; In low light conditions, our vision depends much more on blue light; etc.
Trying to wear different blue light filters is the best way to determine the optimal blue blocking profile for you.
If you don’t live near a low vision facility, you can try the GLARminŸ TESTER kit. For US$20 you get 8 different (interchangeable) blue light filters ranging from very week to very strong, instructions on which filters have the same blue blocking characteristics, and where to order them (explained next).
7. Where to buy macular degeneration glasses
There are many glasses that are marketed as blue blockers, but not that many come with spectral transmission data or a spectrogram. Since you were already diagnosed with macular degeneration you cannot blindly believe marketing slogans that may be misleading. Make sure to check real data before ordering.
Here is a good place to start: 46 Sunglasses for macular degeneration & Easy decision rules
You can also find 80+ products that disclose their spectrograms in this table.
How to read the table and
what are the most suitable products for AMD
The spectrogram from section 1 belongs to GLARminŸ Tester Filter 2. If to protect your macula, you’d like a product with a similar spectral transmission, find “Filter 2” in the first column (see the black arrow in the table snippet below).
The products listed in rows adjacent to Filter 2 have similar spectral transmission properties. Those listed above Filter 2 are stronger blue blockers, those below are weaker. Thus, by moving up you are more and more safe in terms of blue light blocked, but your eyes will get less and less light. If you need a lot of light to see, you probably don’t want to go too high. For weaker blue light filters, move down the table.
Products’ spectral transmission graphs may be viewed by clicking on the links in the first column.
A quicker way to get an idea of products’ spectral transmission is to check columns 3-7 (marked below) where the percentages of light blocked at 400, 425, 450, 480, 525, and 570 nanometers is provided (as denoted below in the row underlined in black).
The snippet above contains the filters that might be the most appropriate for macular degeneration glasses based on the recommendations in this article.
To visit vendor sites and order products click the links provided in the last column.
Special prescription macular degeneration glasses
If you need special prescription lenses for your AMD glasses consider ordering online from ReadingGlassesETC – single vision lenses (commission link), or MojoOptical – multifocal and progressive lenses).
8. Other blue blocking products for AMD
There are other, special purpose, blue light filtering products in addition to macular degeneration glasses, that you might find useful: Sunglasses, Eye supplements, Over-glasses, Screen protectors, and Apps. Here are a few sources of information relevant to these:
Eye supplements for AMD. Trying to strengthen the anti-oxidative capacity and blue blocking capacity of macular pigment is reasonable. Meso-zeaxanthin is most highly concentrated right at the center of macular pigment and is therefore fundamental to protecting the central macula, both by filtering blue light and as anti-oxidant.
Unfortunately, once again, there is no agreement within the scientific community as to whether supplementing Meso-zeaxanthin (in addition to Lutein and Zeaxanthin) is necessary. One theory suggests it is bio-converted from Lutein in which case supplementing meso-zeaxanthin would not be necessary. A more recent theory is that Meso-zeaxanthin must be obtained through diet.
Since there are no reports of Meso-zeaxanthin causing any negative side-effects, it seems you cannot go wrong by taking macular pigment supplements that contain not only Lutein and Zeaxanthin but also Meso-zeaxanthin. This post features 11 macular pigment supplements that include Meso-zeaxanthin in their formula.
Sunglasses for macular degeneration. This post features the different options for your blue-blocking sunglasses. Again, if you need special prescription lenses, ReadingGlassesETC offers a darker blue-blocking tint (Mojo BluBlock Sun Brown 60) that might be great for macular degeneration sunglasses.
Over-glasses (fit-overs, clip-ons, flip-ups). See: Over-glasses vs. special glasses for macular degeneration. Also, you should be able to identify several options of blue-blocking over-glasses in the above-described table.
Screen protectors. This overview features most screen filters with known spectral transmission data. A DIY solution is also suggested.
Blue light filter apps. There are several out there, but for several reasons (as explained) these two seem the best for AMD users also.