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Virtual Reality Could Be Affecting Our Eye Health

Users should 're-immerse themselves back in the real world' by taking frequent breaks to rest their eyes.

28/02/2017 12:10 PM AEDT | Updated 28/02/2017 9:43 PM AEDT
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Users of virtual reality headsets have been told to take frequent breaks.

There's no denying that the world has quickly fallen in love with virtual reality and its ability to transport us to just about anywhere. However, little is known about the impact the new technology has on our eyesight.

Australians are predicted to buy more than 500,000 virtual reality headsets this year, prompting a warning from optometrists such as Karen Makin for users to enjoy the technology responsibly and take frequent breaks to rest their eyes.

"The standard risk around any screen-based equipment -- TV, laptops, smartphones -- [is that] eyes strain with prolonged use and with any of these sorts of equipment we recommend taking a break at least every hour for five to 10 minutes, rest your eyes, do something different," Makin told The Huffington Post Australia.

"More frequent breaks are warranted with virtual reality goggles because we don't know the overall impact of what these might be.

"There will be people who will happily use them and there won't be problems at all -- there will [also] be people that do and won't necessarily think it's the goggles causing it."

According to Makin, the convergence-accommodation reflex in our eyes operates differently when we use virtual reality headsets, causing important eye muscles to become out of sync.

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Using virtual reality headsets causes the accommodating-convergence reflex in our eyes to become out of sync.

"In the real world our eyes focus and converge on the same point, but when using virtual reality while our eyes remain focused at one distance, the convergence of objects changes as they may appear closer or further away and this is where users may experience issues," Makin said.

"The potential issue is that because the accommodation and convergence muscles are no longer in sync, that can put extra strain on the eye."

Common symptoms of eye strain identified by Makin include headaches in the forehead or temples, tired eyes and sometimes even a tired neck, and she warns that users should err on the side of caution when using the headset.

As virtual reality becomes utilised in film and video games, users are often spending prolonged periods looking at the screen but should take the time to stop and "re-immerse themselves back in the real world."

"It's worth noting though that leading manufacturers of virtual reality technology state in their guidelines for users to take a 10 to 15 minute break every half hour, even if they don't' feel like it," Makin said.

"Virtual reality is wonderful technology and will play a big role in our future, but the reality is that we just don't know yet what the impact it will have on people's eyes in the long run."

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