Virtual reality (VR) headsets are becoming increasingly mainstream. Their ability to create an immersive experience and transport us to another place makes them fascinating. However, little is known about the effects of this technology on our eyes and eyesight.
Most VR headsets contain two small LCD monitors, each projected at one eye, creating a stereoscopic effect which gives users the illusion of depth. These monitors are positioned very close to the eyes and have caused experts to wonder about possible negative effects, especially when used for long periods of time. These concerns are real, because eye strain is likely whenever one focuses on an object for an extended period of time, like when we watch a long movie or stare at our computer or smartphone all day.
Most VR headset manufacturers have put in place warnings for children. This is important because a child’s visual system continues to develop throughout childhood. Extended exposure to the awkward visual posture created by VR headsets can alter the development of focusing, tracking, and depth perception.
“Cybersickness,” a form of motion sickness associated with VR headsets, is also known to occur when there is a mismatch of visual information and known body position.
However, the news is not all bad. When used as instructed by an optometrist, some VR headsets enable vision development and improvement. Systems have been developed to improve visual acuity in amblyopia and to enhance eye-hand coordination, depth perception, reaction time, and eye coordination.
Virtual reality is constantly advancing and new technologies and applications regularly emerging. For now, the best advice is to pay attention to warnings that come with VR headsets, limit time spent in the virtual world, and ensure all users have regular comprehensive eye examinations with an optometrist to ensure eye health and contribute to overall health.