If we search the Internet for information on augmented reality, virtual reality and health, we find a multitude of projects related to researchers and health professionals who are using these technologies to treat their patients. As we have seen before, AR glasses and VR headsets are much more than a toy and can be used for education, work meetings or to train future pilots.
But it is normal to wonder if the prolonged use of this technology can affect our health in some way. That is to say: if tomorrow we are going to deal with augmented reality and virtual reality glasses and helmets, will we notice tiredness or eyestrain? Will we have long-term health problems? What is the usage time limit for this type of device?
All new technology is likely to cause suspicion and mistrust. Especially in a context in which we are surrounded by screens and connected devices 24 hours a day. It is normal to ask these questions concerning our health and technology. And, although common sense is usually a good adviser, sometimes we need a little more information.
What do the advertisements for the virtual reality headsets currently available on the market say?
Let’s start with the source of the problem. Every electronic device comes with documentation that explains how it works and what precautions to take. So that the device does not break down, to make good use of it and about other aspects related to our health. In the case that applies to us, what do the health and safety warnings of the popular Meta Quest 2 often used for, among other things, the metaverse say?
On this page you will find all the manuals on health and safety of Meta virtual reality devices. In Meta Quest 2, there are several warnings that will call our attention. First, the one that refers to seizures. “About 1 in 4,000” people may experience severe dizziness, seizures, eye or muscle twitching, or blackout triggered by flashes or patterns of light. It is not frequent, but it can be the case. However, it is not something exclusive to virtual reality. It would also happen to those people if they play video games or watch TV.
Regarding sight, which is the subject at hand, the Meta health manual recommends that we consult our doctor if we have binocular vision abnormalities. And it makes some common sense recommendations: stop using the VR headset if you notice eye strain, eye or muscle twitching, vision disturbance, blurred or double vision or any other visual disturbance, eye pain…
In summary, prolonged use of any device will cause your vision to suffer and you will notice that tiredness. And before this, the best solution is to rest. Whether at home or at work. With a smartphone, your computer, the television or even with a book. Any activity that consists of fixing attention and sight on something specific for a long time will cause us to notice fatigue in our eyes and in other parts of our body.
Is VR glasses safe for children’s health?
All device health and safety manuals usually mention children and minors at some point. And the manuals on virtual reality and augmented reality helmets and glasses are no exception. The reason is that a child or minor is still developing, so some extra precautions need to be taken.
For example: going back to the Meta Quest 2 manual, it clearly specifies that it is not a toy “and should not be used by children under 13 years of age”. In addition, “prolonged use by children over the age of 13 should be avoided, as it may adversely affect hand-eye coordination, balance, and the ability to multitask.” A warning that can be applied to any physical or mental activity. Abuse has consequences in the form of fatigue and physical and mental exhaustion.
What do health professionals say?
The short answer: common sense and responsible use. The long answer: Although the long-term consequences remain to be seen, as there are few studies on it, at the moment, “ophthalmologists agree that there is no reason to worry that VR devices could harm development, health or function of the eyes”, as explained on the official website of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
With time limits, especially for minors, there should not be any vision problems except immediate fatigue if intensive or prolonged use is made. What’s more: our own eyesight warns us that it’s time to stop when we notice eye fatigue, our eyes itch or we notice them dry. And, in the worst case, we can notice dizziness. But as the AAO explains, “If you’re susceptible to roller coaster or boat sickness, you may be susceptible to virtual motion sickness as well.”
What will happen when the use of virtual reality and augmented reality is as prevalent as computers and phones today? It is likely that in professional environments there are guidelines and precautions such as those already given in the field of occupational health or ergonomics. Breaks of 5 minutes every hour, changing positions from time to time or changing tasks to avoid falling into monotony are some guidelines that already occur in the work environment.
There are already professionals who advise resting 10 to 15 minutes for every hour of virtual reality or augmented reality activity. And, at the risk of making us boring, there is also an appeal to common sense and to pay attention to the warnings that our eyes give us. In the face of discomfort and vision problems, it is best to rest from any activity that requires visual effort.