Asked by: Jon Shields, Wells
Virtual reality (VR) is really taking off, with over 10 million sets being sold globally last year. But whether they’re sophisticated headsets or cardboard adapters for smartphones, they’ve become the focus of health concerns. The most obvious risk involves injuries caused by blundering into real objects while immersed in VR.
But there’s growing concern about more subtle health effects. Many people report headaches, eye strain, dizziness and nausea after using the headsets. Such symptoms are triggered by the VR illusion, which makes the eyes focus on objects apparently in the distance that are actually on a screen just centimetres away.
Known as vergence-accommodation conflict, this is now under investigation for its long-term effects, especially among children. A recent study by researchers at Leeds University found that just 20 minutes exposure to VR could affect the ability of some children to discern the distance to objects. There are also concerns that regular use of VR could accelerate the global epidemic of myopia – short-sightedness – which is predicted to affect one in three of the world’s population by 2020.
Manufacturers of VR headsets are racing to solve the problem as it potentially poses a major threat to the widespread adoption of the technology.