3-D Visions May Merit a Second Look
by Jennifer Moyer
Tompkins Weekly 12/12/2011
While we’ve always been told not to sit too close to the television, 3-D technology brings the action closer to us no matter where we are located. Many people are quick to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest 3-D video-game console or television set, but others wonder whether visits to the eye doctor should be included as part of the total package price.
3-D technology dates back to the 1950s, but it only started to enter our homes and classrooms in the last decade. There are a variety of techniques used to produce 3-D images; the effect works by sending different pictures to our right and left eyes, creating an illusion of depth. As the 3-D market expands into tablets, smart phones and other devices, safety issues remain.
Last year, Nintendo issued a warning advising that their 3-DS system was not suitable for children under the age of six.
The company stated that 3-D content “delivers 3-D images with different left and right images, [which] has a potential impact on the growth of children’s eyes.” Sony and Toshiba also jumped on board with legal disclaimers for their 3-D products that read like boarding instructions at amusement park rides.
To thwart liability, manufacturers advise pregnant women, young children, drinkers and those who experience seizures or have heart conditions to avoid using the technology. Although only 24 people participated, a recent “Journal of Vision” study funded by Samsung showed that when test subjects watched 3-D displays, they reported more eye strain and fatigue and less vision clarity afterward than when they watched 2-D video.
3-D technology “can be visually stressful,” especially for children, according to Dr. Nathan BonillaWarford, chair of the Children’s Vision Committee of the Florida Optometric Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, as reported in “PC World.” “Children generally are less aware of their eyes, so they are less likely to know if they are having visual problems. This is especially true with something very engaging like 3-D games. Even if children do know, they may be reluctant to discuss 3-D symptoms with parents because they fear the 3-D may be limited or taken away,” he stated.
Some optometrists, though, say that 3-D technology may help detect vision disorders. An estimated 10 to 20 percent of people cannot see 3-D, and this symptom can be a warning sign of an eye problem, says Dr. Michael Duenas, associate director for health sciences and policy for the American Optometric Association.
Good vision in both eyes is needed to view 3-D images. An inability to see 3-D images may indicate moderate to poor binocular vision, or amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye,” a condition that is treatable with an eye patch or surgery. Such problems are relatively easy to treat in childhood yet become increasingly difficult later in life, translating into potential lifetime problems with reading and other daily tasks. With the explosion of 3-D technology in homes, theaters and classrooms, some experts believe that more people may visit eye doctors if they are experiencing headaches, dizziness, discomfort or double vision.
Ophthalmologists (eye doctors with a medical degree) don’t necessarily agree that 3-D serves as an appropriate screening tool for eye disorders in adults and particularly in children. Since children with amblyopia have problems with depth perception, they won’t really notice a difference with 3-D images compared to what they see in their daily life. In addition, emerging research suggests that eyesight growth and development may be ongoing past eight years old.
The bottom line is that there is not enough research to demonstrate how 3-D technology affects developing eyes. The most adverse side effects that adults may experience include fatigue, double vision, headaches and disorientation, but it will take years before we will know the positive and negative effects of 3-D on children’s eye health.
The International Organization of Standardization is still developing safety guidelines about 3-D use; precautions are advised because this technology is here to stay and will become a bigger part of our lives. Optometrists suggest a visual break to help rest the eyes every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Visual eye breaks are important to encourage your eyes to blink, as the eyes tend to do less blinking when staring at a computer screen and may tend to dry out, causing fatigue.
Try to sit a least 10 feet away from the 3-D movie or television screen. Parents should watch for “the three Ds of 3-D”: discomfort, dizziness or lack of depth perception in children. If such symptoms appear, consult an eye specialist. While eye specialists have not set a limit on how long children should play with 3-D game consoles, they suggest that parents encourage moderation. After all, a break for a little fresh air never hurt anyone.
Jennifer Moyer, BSN, RN, CBC, is a frequent contributor to “Tompkins Weekly.”
A former Ithaca resident, she now lives and practices nursing in the Boston area.