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Eye Damage

Can Virtual Reality Games & Applications Cause Eye Damage?

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As virtual reality (VR) applications and games become more mainstream, the conversation surrounding virtual reality and eye damage has reached a fever pitch. Let's examine VR systems a bit closer to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between virtual reality and eye damage. Continue reading to learn more. 

What Are Virtual Reality Systems? 

In short, virtual reality systems use innovative computer technology to create a unique immersive experience. Different from other user interfaces, VR systems place users inside of an environment. This is traditionally achieved through the use of a virtual reality headset or a head-mounted display (HMD) that works to simulate as many senses as possible. 

To achieve this goal, two individual LCD monitors must be positioned extremely closely to the user's eyes. In return, users are treated to a unique and holistically immersive experience where they can be whisked away to other places. However, more and more research is connecting virtual reality to eye damage. 

Virtual Reality Applications Can Cause Eye Strain

The majority of VR systems employ two small LCD monitors that are individually projected at one eye. This creates a stereoscopic effect that offers users an illusion of depth. The closeness of the screens to the user's eyes give most optometric professionals serious cause for concern, particularly for eye strain. Similar to focusing on a movie for a long period of time or staring at a computer screen for extended periods, virtual reality systems can cause eye strain. 

In fact, virtual reality headsets are linked to severe eye strain. Those who use virtual reality headsets tend to suffer eye strain due to the continual focusing on a highly-pixelated screen that uses a single refractive optic element. Unfortunately, these headset devices fail to address the optic issues associated with near-to-eye equipment and devices. Because of this, users can become uncomfortable from wearing these devices after a few short minutes. 

Designers Must Work to Solve VR-Related Eye Strain 

To remedy this problem, VR headset designers must work more closely with the optometric community to discover a way to provide a wider field of view for users. Most humans will have an approximate field of view around 200 degrees. This includes about 60 degrees for peripheral vision and 140 degrees of binocular vision for depth perception.

Many of today's VR headsets offer a meager 35 degree field of view, but increasing it to 60 degrees may help the user feel more immersed. In either case, headsets should mimic the way human vision works, and increasing the field of view will result in a more comfortable 3D as well as 2D content. Simply put, headset engineers and designers must solve this problem to eliminate eye strain. 

Can Virtual Reality Cause Eye Damage in Kids? 

The majority of today's virtual reality applications, games, and environments are designed for the video game industry. Because of this, kids may be the highest at-risk market. The gaming market is loaded with youth with an estimated 26% of gamers falling under the age of 18. To make matters worse, many of these young gamers are still developing depth perception, focusing, visual acuity, and visual tracking skills into middle childhood. 

When it comes to virtual reality and eye damage in kids, VR systems could lead to early nearsightedness as well as digital eye strain. If parents know their children use VR systems, they can combat this ocular stress by having regular vision exams prior to starting school. Most importantly, parents can:

  • Encourage their child to take a 20 second break from the screens every 20 minutes
  • Encouraging longer breaks by engaging them with certain physical activities

Can Virtual Reality Cause Permanent Eye Damage

According to research conducted by Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, the use of VR for as little as 30 minutes can be dangerous to the brain and eyes. When users engage with VR systems, they are tricking their brain into seeing what isn't physically there. Because the headset is located so closely to the eyes, it may negatively affect the growth of the eye, which can lead to nearsightedness. 

According to Martin Banks, UC Berkeley optometry professor, the extended staring at phones, tablets, and similar devices can cause permanent damage. There is sufficient evidence that suggests doing similar work on these devices can lead to the lengthening of the eye, which can increase the risk for myopia. Most experts have expressed significant concern that virtual reality could further exacerbate things. In addition, VR can cause motion sickness or virtual reality sickness. 

Considerations for People with Eye Conditions

If your patient suffers from strabismus, amblyopia, or any other condition that inhibits depth perception, focusing, or normal 3D vision, they may not experience the three-dimensional effects of virtual reality. And those who wear corrective lenses should continue wearing their contact lenses, sunglasses, or glasses while using the VR headset. 

Contact Keeler for the Best Ophthalmic Equipment 

At Keeler Ophthalmic Instruments, we're proud to be the leading manufacturer of innovative solutions. Contact us today for your ophthalmic instrumentation needs. 

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.