How much damage does 3D content do to our eyes?

French ANSES agency calls for greater research into affect of 3D viewing on eye sight
More research needed into affect of 3D content on eyes says ANSES
More research needed into affect of 3D content on eyes says ANSES

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New stereoscopic audio-visual technologies in 3D have developed rapidly over the last decade or so, with the substantial increase (since the mid-2000s) in the number of films shown in 3D at cinemas followed by a growing range of televisions, computers, games consoles, mobile phones and other devices equipped with 3D technology. The development of these technologies raises the question of their possible impact on health, and in particular on human eyesight, in cases of prolonged exposure, especially in children and adolescents. In fact, several manufacturers of devices with 3D technologies have issued warnings recommending that children should not use these products.

Now, the ANSES, a French governmental agency dealing with sanitary safety in food, the environment and at work has issued a report calling for greater research into the potential health risks related to the widespread use of 3D technologies. The agency focuses on the effect that 3D viewing may have on the eyes sight of children under the age of 13 and calls for children under six years of age to not be expose to 3D video content at all.

The agency’s finding are based on limited internal research that it says must be expanded in order for the entertainment and broadcast industries to gain a better understanding of the impact 3D viewing has on immature visual systems. The agency has also published practical recommendations to reduce the risk of visual fatigue that can be caused by these technologies.

The ANSES highlights the lack of a set standard of quality between various types of 3D content, despite the existence of technical recommendations and points out that 3D viewing creates a “vergence-accommodation conflict” by which the eyes are unable to track movement and adjust the shape of the lens in the same way that they would in the real world. This can result in peri-ocular fatigue and pain, the sensation of dry eyes and visual disorders, and extra-ocular disorders such as headache, neck pain, aching in the back and shoulders, lower performance in mental activities and loss of concentration.

While such symptoms are usually transient in adults, the ANSES points out that in children, especially those younger than six years, more severe health effects related to "vergence-accommodation conflict" in the eyes may occur, as a result of the active development of the visual system during this period. As a result, the ANSES is recommending that children under the age of six should not be exposed to 3D technologies, while children under the age of 13 should only use 3D technologies in moderation. The agency has also called on content producers and broadcasters of 3D content to respect existing technical recommendations promoting the production of quality content.

It is incredible, but no large-scale, medical research has ever been conducted to scientific standards examining the impact that 3D viewing has on an individual’s eyesight, despite the proliferation of 3D technology in the last few years. In fact, it was not until the 3D movie Avatar was released in cinemas in 2009 that the visual strain of 3D was acknowledged by the industry. Avatar was the first 3D movie to attract a large enough audience to bring to the fore some of the issues associated with 3D content. Many people complained of dizziness and headaches after watching Avatar, which remains the highest grossing box office movie of all time.
 

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