How many people can remember their mom telling them not to read in the dark? Probably many.With all this new technology, there are many new problems to consider. Nintendo recently gave the warning that children under the age of six shouldn’t use the new 3D feature of their 3DS and computer vision syndrome is becoming much more popular.
The warning from Nintendo has raised a lot of questions about the effects of 3D technology on eyes and in particular developing eyes. The concern Nintendo has is that before age six, it is believed that eyes are in a critical period of development. Experiments have shown that if a young child cannot see out of one eye after a few years they will not be able to see out of the eye even if the problem is fixed. On the other hand if the same thing happened in an adult, when the problem causing the blindness in one eye is fixed they will be able to see normally again. This is because of how the brain processes the visual information. The two eyes see slightly different images and then process the information into essentially a column of cells. When both eyes work, the columns should alternate which eye the information came from by cell. But when only one eye works or is heavily favored then the columns only have information from that eye. When vision is returned to the eye, the brain doesn’t know how to make the columns start alternating if they haven’t done it before. It is more than just blindness that can cause one eye to become dominant over another though. If the two eyes are misaligned or if they focus at different distances, then one eye will generally become dominant to prevent double vision.
In order to begin research on the effects of watching 3D on young eyes, Dr. Tychsen did research on baby Rhesus monkeys. While not a guaranteed indication that the effects observed will carry over to humans, it is very likely that the effects will be similar. In Dr. Tychsen’s research, he had monkey’s watch 3D films throughout each day for three months. The monkeys who watched the films had no difference in their visual development compared to those who did not watch the films. In fact, some researchers believe that the only potential concerns for have more to do with how much information the brain has to process and the fatigue that comes from that.
Surprisingly, it turns out that the 3DS may actually have visual benefits in the sense that it could have doctors diagnose issues that may result in learning difficulties in children at an earlier age. Many vision problems can be treated much easier if they are detected early. The 3DS is essentially showing each eye a slightly different image, so when they combine you get the 3D effect. Therefore, if one eye is dominant over another, there will be issues when viewing the 3D content as the information will not combine correctly and will not give the correct 3D effect. When using the 3DS there are 3 signs that you need to get a comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist because there may be an issue. They are dizziness, discomfort, or lack of depth.
So what about computer vision syndrome? We’ve all had those days where we’ve stared at the computer for way too long and before we know it, we’re rubbing our eyes, can’t focus and that nagging headache is building up, but why does it happen? Part of it is because of how the computer screen works. When you stare at an unchanging object, the computer screen is not actually unchanging. The screen is actually constantly refreshing itself and forcing you to refocus your eyes every time it refreshes. Another cause is an underlying vision problem that is aggravated by the computer. And as you age, your eyes are changing anyways. So watch out baby boomers…computer vision syndrome is coming with carpal tunnel syndrome for those of you who are on the computer all day.
So what can you do to prevent it? Well you have some options. The easiest thing is to blink and take breaks more often. If you blink more frequently as you work, it will help prevent dry eye and breaks will give your eyes time to refocus. Also make sure you work station is set up properly. The diagram to the right shows the recommendations of the American Optometric Association. You want the screen below your eyes and just over two feet away from your eyes. Finally, do your best to reduce the glare on the screen either by changes in lighting or by adding an anti-glare screen.
For more information on these topics, here are some good articles: