Is Virtual Reality a Threat to Eye Health?

Image of woman wearing virtual reality headset.

Virtual reality has been slowly trickling into the mainstream in recent years, and with it come concerns about how it may affect your eyes and brain.

VR headsets are viewed much more closely and project a different type of image than screens already associated with conditions such as computer eye strain. Doctors and researchers are only beginning to understand how this may influence eye health.

Current Warnings

Reading the instructions that come with VR headsets reveals an extensive list of warnings about possible side effects, including:

• Eye strain
• Eye or muscle twitching
• Involuntary movements
• Problems with balance or hand-eye coordination
• Headaches
• Seizures
• Motion sickness

This indicates that manufacturers are already aware of potential risks associated with using these devices. However, since the technology is so new, there has yet to be any conclusive research on the long-term effects of VR.

Vergence-Accommodation Conflict

Current theories on what causes VR users to experience side effects point to a problem called “vergence-accommodation conflict.” Under normal circumstances, your eyes perceive an object by focusing on wherever it is in space and then converging to create the final image that you see. This happens so naturally that it’s known as “coupling” because the brain pairs the two actions together.

With VR, you’re looking at a flat screen with images generated to simulate a 3-D environment. The whole time you’re engaged in VR, your eyes have to constantly adjust between focusing on the screen and focusing on the objects in the game. Since 3-D design is imperfect much of the time, your brain is also forced to deal with visual distortions. As a result, your eyes may not always focus in sync, leading to eye strain, discomfort and other unpleasant side effects.

Growing Popularity, Growing Problems

Some experts are concerned that this and other visual disturbances caused by VR environments may be setting people up for serious eye health problems such as nearsightedness, damage to the retinas and macular degeneration. According toAlan Saks, an optometrist in Auckland, the discrepancy between viewing real and 3-D objects could be behind at least some of the growing number of cases of nearsightedness around the world.

Some VR users have reported seeing an “after-image” of the games they were playing long after removing the headset. Those experiencing hand-eye coordination problems may be suffering from issues with “past-pointing,” a side effect seen in pilots who spend long periods of time using flight simulators. Past-pointing involves the inability to properly discern where an object is in space, making it difficult or impossible to point to it accurately.

Despite this, most vision experts don’t think that people should be worried about lasting eye damage from virtual reality. More research is required to confirm whether or not long-term use of VR devices can damage eye health. Until then, exercise common sense with VR games. Set limits on the amount of time you spend engaging with the device, and stop use immediately if you experience any symptoms or side effects.

Want to more about how virtual reality can affect your eyes?

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Contact us today for a consultation with one of our South Florida eye specialists, located in Hollywood, Weston and Pembroke Pines!