VR Headsets Top Holiday Wish Lists But Pose Surprising Eye Health Risks

Child wearing virtual reality gogglesWhile Hatchimals are topping most 2016 toy lists, many teens and tweens are coveting virtual reality (VR) headsets this holiday season. VR technology is fun and more affordable than ever, but excessive use and sharing of VR headsets may pose short- and long-term eye health risks.We asked Key-Whitman Eye Center’s Dallas optometrist Amanda Hoelscher, O.D., to explain the risks and share some guidelines for safe VR headset use.

“Virtual reality technology may be in its infancy now, but it’s going to become more mainstream over time. Parents should exercise good judgment and be cautious about how much time their kids spend using VR headsets,” Dr. Hoelscher says.

Extensive VR headset use can increase the risk for myopia – in two ways

According to Dr. Hoelscher, “There are two theories regarding what factors increase the risk for nearsightedness– or myopia: Lack of exposure to natural sunlight and extensive time spent looking at things up close. With virtual reality headsets both of those risk factors are present, so I definitely believe it is a significant concern.”

Dr. Hoelscher discusses potential nearsightedness risks related to using VR headsets.

Tip: Exposure to natural sunlight is important for eye development. Make sure your child enjoys regularly scheduled outdoor playtime to help ensure eye health and deter vision loss.

Dry eye symptoms can arise from extensive VR headset use

Dr. Hoelscher also expects to see a rise in dry eye complaints as VR headsets become the norm. She explains, “When people are actively involved in video gaming – much like you are when extremely involved in a work project on your computer or binge watching a favorite TV show – they typically end up staring for extended periods of time and don’t blink.

“The more involved and more reality-based these games become, the less often people will blink. Not blinking frequently is one of the primary causes of dry eye symptoms. People may also experience a fight-or-flight response. When you’re really dialed into the game and staring all throughout game play, your eyes are going to get dry.”

Tip: Learn more about the rise of dry eye symptoms in teens and young adults in this recent post.

Sharing of VR headsets could increase the risk of spreading eye infections

The popularity of VR technology isn’t only rising at home. We’re going to see more VR headsets used at theme parks, museums and a growing number of new virtual reality experiences. Hundreds if not thousands of people will be sharing the same VR headset, and you can’t guarantee the headsets will be disinfected following each use.

“As VR headsets become readily available and more popular, there will be more sharing of headsets. We have to be concerned about sanitation and transmitting bacterial and viral infections from person to person. You have a headset that’s near the eye, so the headset can come in contact with bodily fluids. That increases the chances of passing on an eye infection like pinkeye from one person to the next,” Dr. Hoelscher says.

Tip: Stock up on alcohol-based, anti-bacterial wipes. If your child will be sharing a VR headset with other people, explain the risks and instruct him or her to clean the headset with a wipe before each use.

The upside? VR technology can benefit some people with subpar vision

While using VR headsets can be a lot of fun – when used in moderation and with proper hygiene practices – Dr. Hoelscher is excited about the upside of VR technology when it comes to improving and enhancing vision.

Dr. Hoelscher explains how VR technology may benefit her low-vision patients.

According to Dr. Hoelscher, “One of the big pros of VR technology is it is propelling vision training into a whole new realm. The technology can help speed up the process for patients who are learning how to use a different part of their eye. It’s a more high-tech way to improve vision through vision training.”

Dr. Hoelscher loves helping kids and adults enjoy the best vision possible while maintaining eye health. To schedule an eye health exam with Dr. Hoelscher at her North Dallas office, please call (214) 225-2577, or feel free to set up an appointment online here.