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3D Entertainment: Its Impact on Your Eyes

To say 3D has made a comeback would be an understatement. The onset of 3D televisions, networks, and gaming systems has brought theatre thrills to the comforts of home. But how does 3D impact our eyes? And are some of us at greater risk than others?

A Professional View on 3D

Dr. Roger Phelps, a VSP doctor in Ojai, CA and principal of OjaiEyes Optometry, said 3D can impact each person differently.

"I really enjoyed watching Avatar in 3D, but some of my patients did express fatigue or had a headache after seeing it," he said. "Some even said they felt nauseous during the movie."

So what causes these different experiences? "In many cases these patients had marginal binocular vision." Their ability to use both eyes together was not ideal. "About 5 percent of the population can't perceive 3D because they're monocular, which means they only use one eye to see," Phelps explained. "Another 25 percent of the population has borderline binocular vision, meaning they can use both eyes to perceive 3D, but it's difficult."

3D movies present two different images on screen, separated by a certain distance to enhance the perception of depth. Without 3D glasses—which filter the light and present different images to each eye—the scene on screen looks blurry and unclear. And if either eye is not in excellent focus, or if the eyes have a tendency to misalign with each other, it may be difficult for that person to comfortably enjoy a 3D film.

A Therapeutic Approach

If you have marginal binocular vision, you may feel tired, nauseous, or have a headache after watching a 3D movie. "This could mean your eye muscles have coordination problems." So what's a 3D fan with less-than-perfect eye coordination to do?

"Vision therapy—a series of special techniques that help you learn how to better coordinate your eyes—can help." There are actually some eye doctors who specialize in binocular vision therapy. Some of the techniques used in vision therapy include extended viewing of 3D images. While this can cause fatigue, temporary nausea and headaches, longer viewing times and special glasses can actually provide more comfort and enjoyment for the 3D viewing experience.

Protect Young Eyes

"Children are using devices much, much earlier in life," explains Nate Bonilla-Warford, OD, a VSP doctor with Bright Eyes Family Vision Care in Tampa, FL. "The younger the child, the less mature their visual system and the less capable they are to handle visual stress in general." As with anything, moderation is a good rule of thumb. But because kids are so plugged-in, and are often less aware of their own limits, it's a good idea to monitor your child's exposure.

Take 20

Watch for red eyes, headaches, and squinting, and encourage taking breaks. "We like to apply the 20-20-20 rule," explains Dr. Bonilla-Warford. "Make a habit of taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to stretch, breathe and focus on something 20 feet away. This gives you a chance to rest and check in with yourself."

Make the Most of Your Experience

If you're one of the millions thirsting for more 3D, here's what Dr. Bonilla-Warford and many other eye doctors are telling their patients:

  • Get a customized view
    For those who wear prescription glasses or contacts, a customized pair of 3D glasses with a built-in prescription will soon be available through your eye doctor and can eliminate the need to wear 3D glasses over your own pair, making for a better experience.
  • Find new focus
    For patients whose eyes don't respond well to visual stress, viewing 3D entertainment can be sometimes be difficult. Glasses with special prisms may help correct focus and eye coordination problems.

If you or your child is having difficulty with 3D viewing, make an appointment to see your VSP doctor right away. "A non-routine visit could help us detect certain underlying problems that may have otherwise gone unnoticed."