Is virtual reality bad for your eyes?

Whether you are trying to enter legendary virtual reality for the first time or are a seasoned veteran of the supposed meta verse, knowing how virtual reality headsets affect your eyes is a question you deserve to know the answer to.

We’re still a long way from living our day-to-day lives in this exciting new world of truly immersive video games and virtual experiences, and until that day comes, you need those peepers. Eye strain is not unique to virtual reality. Putting on a headset can give someone their first dose of motion sickness in VR, but if it’s a bit of eyestrain you’re worried about, don’t worry – its causes aren’t unique to VR, and the remedy is practically the same.

If you’ve heard the old claim that sitting too close to the TV screen will hurt your eyes, your concerns about VR are understandable. The idea is similar: wearing a headset places high-resolution displays just millimeters from your retinas.

There are two intricately shaped lenses between you to shape the image of the screens in this situation, but my point still stands. If you’ve ever worked on a computer for an extended period, you’re very familiar with the downsides of being too close to a screen for too long. Like reading a book, concentrating on small text for too long takes its toll, but screens also cause it in another way: blue light. And therefore, the same goes for virtual reality.

If you’re looking for more information on VR headsets, check out our guides on how to build a PC for VR and how to set up your room for VR.

Why does virtual reality hurt your eyes?

The first virtual reality headsets were known to cause fatigue and dizziness. And it did not discriminate. But as the integrated panels have increased both in pixel density and refresh rate, the blurry image and unrealistic movement that our brains detect as unrealistic and thus cause discomfort have improved dramatically. The infamous “screen door” effect that plagued early models, caused by their eyes being too close to too few pixels, has all but faded with premium headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index.

Oculus Quest 2 Virtual Reality Headset

(Image credit: Oculus)

We are lucky that we have never had many problems; from being in the rain with beloved anime character Totoro on the original single screen, low resolution Oculus Rift DK2 to grabbing crushing zombie heads in Saints & Sinners and driving a truck through Bilbao, Spain in our Oculus Quest 2. It’s the Kind of a revolutionary experience that we dreamed of as a child and that we think everyone should try.

But family members, both older and younger, whom we’ve certainly thrown to the bottom of the virtual reality ecosystem with my experiments, have felt motion sick or had trouble focusing on the image without some kind of discomfort. . The side effects make sense. It is a natural response. Most are not used to having one screen so close to their eyes, let alone two behind a plane of glass designed to distort the split image around their peripheral vision.

Neither effect was long lasting. They would mollify within moments of removing the headphones. Like an optical illusion, which is basically virtual reality, our brains need time to ‘get’ it, which means that our eyes struggle to focus at first, causing our muscles to overwork and stiffen, resulting in in, you guessed it, eyestrain. .

How to avoid eyestrain in virtual reality?

So what can you do about it? As much as your eyes acclimate to the virtual reality experience with enough practice and patience, that doesn’t mean you’ll eventually get rid of the effects entirely. Digital eyestrain is not unique to virtual reality. Stare at anything long enough and you will still experience it; be it a computer screen on your desk, your laptop, phone or tablet.

visual fatigue

(Image credit: Getty)

The problem is not that the screens are so close. It is that we are not taking enough steps to relax the muscles that eventually tense up. Last year, the BBC reported that a doctor suggested that his patient had virtual reality impaired vision. In response, Ceri Smith-Jaynes of the Optometrists Association chimed in to say that there is “… reliable evidence that virtual reality headsets cause permanent vision impairment in children or adults.”

Big tech now understands that the blue light emitted by most screens plays a big role in the strain we get from looking at them for too long. It also keeps us awake at night by preventing our brain from releasing natural chemicals that help us relax. That’s why software-level blue light filters like Night Shift and TrueTone are being powered by Apple, Google, and Microsoft right now and why polarized lenses are all over Amazon. And speaking as someone whose lifestyle has revolved around staring at screens for up to 16 hours a day, we can confirm that these steps help. Oculus Quest 2 even has a software-level built-in night mode for this reason.

But we can’t blame the blue light for everything. And we certainly can’t expect one filter to solve all of our problems. After all, books don’t emit blue light, but we’re still prone to pushing ourselves for a good story. And it all comes down to distance.

If you’ve ever sat down at an office job, you’ve probably been told to take your eyes off the screen from time to time. The official guide is to take a 15 minute break every hour. Not that anyone’s boss allows them to do this, but it is suggested for the sake of eye health.

Virtual reality with VR headset

(Image credit: Getty)

The science is simple: the eyes get fatigued when they focus on something for too long. And a screen forces it. Looking at something from a certain distance for too long does not stretch those muscles. The solution? Avert your gaze. Just looking at the wall behind the screen, at a tree through the window, or even at the break room door are good ideas. And that 15 minute break you suggest? It’s a great time to have a glass of water, stretch your legs, and give your eyes something else to look at while giving them a break from that nasty blue light. It’s a win-win situation and a mantra that applies to both virtual reality and the real world.

Finally, it is worth trying to adapt your headphones to your needs. Most premium headsets feature things like extra space inside to accommodate goggles, adapters as an aftermarket solution, or even prescription lenses designed specifically for virtual reality. And whether you wear glasses or not, a way to physically or virtually alter the spacing of the lenses to suit your own eyes.

Feeling eyestrain in VR is normal, and the solution is simple: remove your headphones, hydrate yourself, and step away from screens for a moment. Like many of the best things in life, moderation is the key to enjoying them longer.

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