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Is Virtual Reality Bad for Your Eyes?

By Essilor News

How Does Virtual Reality Work?

Immersive, all-enveloping virtual worlds are the holy grail of the digital experience and, lately, are a big focus in the news. The major players in the burgeoning virtual reality, or VR, headset business include recent upstart Oculus and electronics giants Sony, Samsung, and HTC. Google has even gotten into the game with a cardboard VR headset that utilizes your smartphone for a low-cost entry into virtual experiences.

These headsets track your head movements in three dimensions to help plunge you into a computer-generated simulation of an environment, whether it's blasting aliens in a distant galaxy or practicing a triple-bypass surgery on a computer-generated patient.

How VR Might Cause Eye Strain

VR headsets contain two small LCD monitors, each projected at one eye, creating a stereoscopic effect that gives users the illusion of depth. The proximity of the screens to the eyes has given some experts pause, speculating on what types of eye disorders may be created by fully immersing yourself into these intense ocular exercises for long periods of time. Eye strain may occur whenever you are focusing on one object for an extended amount of time, as in watching a long movie or staring at your computer or smartphone all day. You can reduce digital eye strain or eliminate glare caused by digital devices by wearing specialized lenses such as Eyezen or Crizal®.

What Are the Risks for Kids?

As most of the early immersive VR environments are focused on video gaming markets, both mobile and console-based, kids could be in the most danger. The market is filled with young gamers—an estimated 26% of all gamers are younger than 18—and focus, tracking, and depth perception are still developing into middle childhood. This could put children at risk for developing early myopia, or nearsightedness, and digital eye strain. Easy ways to combat this ocular stress include having your child's vision checked before school starts, encouraging 20-second breaks from screens every 20 minutes, and making longer breaks where they perform physical activities mandatory.

What Are the Risks for Adults?

Other main concerns for adults include feelings of nausea and disorientation called virtual reality sickness, and problems with the 3D stereoscopic effect causing a disruption of our vergence, or the simultaneous movement of our eyes to keep binocular vision steady. This sickness is a result of poorly rendered VR experiences and is very rare given the state of today’s technology.

How VR Might Benefit Our Eyes

With all of the possible negative effects VR might wreak on our vision, the fine-tuning and further development of virtual reality systems and headsets could actually make our eyes stronger since they have to adjust to maintain binocular vision. Who knows what other interesting and groundbreaking applications VR might come up with to enhance vision down the road? Special attention should be paid to the time spent in virtual reality for younger enthusiasts, similar to the restrictions already recommended for kids' screen time.