The future is virtual, and with the metaverse and other virtual realities coming to the fore, we are well on our way there. VR is on a path that will redefine our daily lives, just like the Internet.

To provide a true virtual experience, VR systems use head-mounted displays that completely surround the user’s eyes. One of the most pressing concerns for early adopters of this cutting-edge technology is how it will affect their eyes.

Is it possible that wearing a VR headset can damage your eyes? let’s find out.

How does virtual reality work?

VR in its current form has existed since the 1960s. Early virtual reality was non-digital and was intended only to replace your current visual experience. These have taken the form of panoramic paintings, cinematic screenings and stereoscopic photographs.

When we now say “virtual reality”, we are talking about a realistic and interactive three-dimensional world created and experienced through the use of computer technology. Users can explore and interact with this world, experiencing the illusion of being in this world physically and mentally.

The main goal of any VR system is to simulate a virtual and immersive audiovisual experience. Its primary display technology is a virtual reality headset that creates a three-dimensional environment.

Each virtual reality headset has two screens – one for each eye – creating a stereoscopic effect that gives users the illusion of depth. The screen is adjusted by the autofocusing lens based on the movement or position of each individual eye.

And this is precisely the reason for the concern of users. So, to the question: is VR bad for your eyes?

Potential effects of VR on your eyes: What the research says

Many technological advances have their drawbacks—social media is great for communication, but it takes a toll on mental health. Crypto is creating opportunities for financial inclusion, but it is bad for the environment. Virtual reality is no exception.

As most VR users use it for long periods of time, concerns loomed. Some users have reported negative side effects even after using VR for a short period of time.

VR alters our normal perception of things by deceiving both our senses and mind at the same time. For reference, when the human eye tries to see something, the muscles adjust their position and then focus the lens on the object.

It helps your brain understand what you are seeing. In virtual reality, your eyes are always fixed at the same point as you try to converge and diverge towards objects at different distances. When you use VR, this difference in the way your eye works can cause problems.

eye fatigue or eye strain

Eye fatigue or strain is a common complaint about using VR headsets. The main reason for this is the unnatural way the brain processes images when using a VR headset. Humans naturally have a field of view of about 200 degrees, and most VR headsets are built with a smaller field of view.

Also, instead of a wide refracting view, the focus is on a pixelated screen that is closer to the eye. This disparity makes it more difficult for the human eye to determine where objects are located, placing additional pressure on the eye.

However, eye strain is usually not a serious condition and is unlikely to cause permanent damage. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends taking a break from VR sessions once you feel a strain on the eyes.

vision induced motion sickness

This is also known as cyber-sickness, and it is very common for people who already suffer from motion sickness or vertigo. This is when your brain receives a stimulus that your body is moving when it is not.

For example, a running scene in your VR session can trick your brain into believing you’re actually running. This causes sensory disorientation as your eyes watch you running while your inner ear and body detect you to be still. VR scenes that involve speeding or falling from a height can cause severe motion sickness.

dizzy

Your balance is controlled by a system called the vestibular system – a sensory device in your inner ear that makes sure your body maintains its balance. This system achieves this by coordinating several sensory signals ranging from head movement to eye movement. But wearing a VR headset can confuse these signs.

A VR headset can make these sensory cues very confusing, such as when your eyes see you running but your head remains stationary. This discrepancy in sensory data can upset your body’s balance, causing you to feel dizzy.

eye or muscle twitching

Prolonged exposure of the eyes to rapid light switching and movement can damage the eye muscles. In most VR simulations, light and speed change rapidly.

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