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Kids and VR – 4 Shocking Reasons Virtual Reality Is Bad For Your Eyes

It seems like every new technology comes with fears to discourage or slow down its absorption, they are often groundless. A good example is the fact that it took two years for Americans to trust Edison’s first electric power plant. But are the claims that virtual reality is bad for your eyes unfounded?

Real World Sight versus Virtual Reality

Kids and VR - 4 Shocking Reasons Virtual Reality Is Bad For Your EyesTo gain a good understanding of ocular stress, it is important to understand how normal sight works.

When looking at something in the real world, your eyes work to focus and converge on a single point in space when you look toward it. This is a natural reflex process referred to as accommodation-convergence reflex.

The distance required to focus your eyes, and that required to converge the eyes, are the same. The brain has coupled the two responses together; hence, the name vergence-accommodation coupling.

With VR, however, your eyes focus on a fixed point while trying to diverge or converge toward objects that appear either distant or nearby. The resulting mismatch is known as the vergence-accommodation conflict, and is the primary reason why VR users experience some discomfort: some people’s eyes feel tired, some people feel nauseous, and others get a headache.

Risk #1: Eye Strain and After-Image from Extended use of VR headsets

There is public concern that people might experience long-lasting changes in the vergence – accommodation coupling process due to extended use of VR headsets.

Experts argue that this is not likely considering that these couplings are fairly plastic. According to experts, VR users can learn to adjust those relationships by simply removing the headset and looking around a room for a few seconds to give their eyes time to adjust.

However, VR is still very new, and any tests conducted have not taken into account the use of HMDs for prolonged periods of time. That said, some of the early adopters of the Oculus Rift, which has been around since late 2012, have reported ocular problems associated with extended us.

Some users have reported experiencing eye strain that persisted hours after taking off the Rift. Others mentioned seeing the pixel grid of the VR display when they squeeze their eyes shut, even after a good night sleep.

They needed a few days away from VR to fully recover from the strain or after-image.

Risk #2: Problems with hand-eye coordination

The Oculus team has warned VR users to avoid operating machinery or engaging in other physically or visually demanding tasks immediately after using the Rift. The VR headset has been associated with impaired balance and problems with hand-eye coordination due to something called past-pointing.

This is a perceptual phenomenon that causes people to point inaccurately to any object in space. It is a common problem for patients with strabismus (crossed eyes) resulting from muscle paralysis, and also among pilots who’ve been training with flight simulators.

When in a simulation, the brain tends to adapt to the constraints of the simulation environment. If this happens for an extended period of time, your brain will require a bit of time to adjust after you get out of the simulation.

If you try reaching for something during the adjustment period, it is likely that you’ll reach past it because VR affects the way you perceive things at a distance.

Past-pointing can greatly affect your ability to perform daily tasks. Still, experts believe that the resulting disorienting effects are short-term.

Risk #3: Staring at a screen for an extended amount of time

VR headsets are designed to track head motions in 3D to help immerse you into a computer-generated simulation of an environment. When you put on the headset, each eye observed a small LCD display, creating a stereoscopic effect that gives you the illusion of depth.

The proximity of these monitors is one of the things that have many experts speculating on the kinds of eye disorders that can result from intense ocular exercises for prolonged periods.

Eye strain is a common occurrence whenever you focus on one object for a long time, like when staring at your smartphone or computer or TV all day.

Risk #4: Stereoscopic images harming developing eyesight

Considering that most of the early VR environments are targeting the video gaming markets, the people in most danger are kids. In fact, an estimated 26 percent of gamers are under 18 years of age.

For these minors, focus, depth perception, and tracking is still developing, and the use of VR could make them prone to developing early myopia (nearsightedness) and digital eye strain.

Oculus Rift explicitly states that children under 13 years should not use the VR system to reduce the risk of stereoscopic images interfering with their developing eyesight.

Doctors argue that VR headsets are likely to trigger latent visual problems in children with intermittent exotropia (where one eye occasionally turns outward).

Additionally, HMDs and other stresses are likely to trigger episodes of double vision in children, which can lead to permanent visual changes like amblyopia or lazy eye.

To reduce the risk of ocular stress, you should have your child’s vision examined before starting school; encouraging regular 20-second breaks from staring at screens (preferably every 20 minutes); and encouraging longer breaks from screens where they are required to perform physical activities.

Virtual Reality is Bad For Your Eyes – Final Note

There are arguments that the risks of VR headsets to the eyes and brain are only short-term, and some even claim that VR-immersion is not very different from staring at a smartphone or computer screen for extended periods.

Regardless of the media, looking at screens for extended periods of time increases your risk of eye strain and other problems due to factors like brightness, contrast, frequency, and duration. But the problem is compounded with VR due to the distortion that eyes need to consistently counter.

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