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How safe is Virtual Reality? The side effects of VR

Ever since the rise of Virtual Reality, or VR, people are worried about possible VR side effects that might impact their health. Is there actually a reason for concern? The short answer is no, if you take the right precautions. There is always the obvious risk of hurting yourself by bumping into things while in VR, which can be avoided with some caution.

What about other health issues though? Well, the most common side effects that might occur include:

  • eye strain
  • headaches/neck discomfort
  • nausea, motion sickness and dizziness

 

These symptoms might be triggered by the VR illusion, which forces the eyes to focus on objects that appear to be in the distance, though they are really just inches away. Some people tend to feel such symptoms intensely, while others don’t seem to experience them at all. That doesn’t mean that VR is not safe to use, though. Like with everything, some side effects just are to be expected and most importantly – they are preventable. From our experience only a very small percentage of people actually have to suffer from these symptoms, especially when they know how to prepare. Let’s discuss why they occur and what to do about them.

Does VR damage your eyesight? 

Probably the most obvious side effect is the eye strain, as your eyes are naturally being challenged when using VR for longer periods of time. And it’s nothing new, right? We’ve already known for a long time that staring at screens all day is indeed harmful to your eyes and eyesight. VR headsets are no exception, on the contrary. Due to the different visual stimuli, this effect might even be accelerated. So it is a very common side effect – and easily preventable.

Solution:

Don’t let it st-rain on me – but how do you do that?

First, make sure the lens of your VR headset is adjusted correctly to your eyesight by changing up your VR settings on your headset. This is of the utmost importance as this can strain your eyes unnecessarily. For people with glasses, it might be better to keep them on, so you can see clearly.

Still suffering from eye-fatigue? Then take breaks from your screen. Nothing revolutionary, you heard it before. But effective. Take your headsets off every once in a while and give your eyes some rest by not staring at a screen from 10 minutes to a few hours, till they feel ok-eye again. If you are really worried about long term consequences, it might be worth looking into glasses or lenses for screen protection.

Does VR cause headaches?

In over your head? Yes, consuming VR can cause headaches. It’s a symptom that is actually closely connected to the eye strain. When your eyes are exhausted, this can quickly turn into a nasty headache from the extra effort. You already know how to combat this best. Sometimes, a headache can also be traced back to neck discomfort from a poorly fitted headset and pressure points on your head.

Solution:

Readjust your headset, so that it sits right on your head and doesn’t cause any discomfort. If you are prone to neck problems, opt for a less frontheavy headset if possible to relieve stress  (e.g. suppliers like Pico have options with the batteries on the back of your head instead of the front). And for the rest you know the drill, take breaks and stay hydrated.

What is causing the motion sickness, nausea and dizziness with VR and what to do?

Moving on to the most talked about side effect: the nausea. And rightly so, nobody enjoys feeling sick and queasy. Having your brain think you are moving but your body remaining still – it creates a disconnect that is so disorienting that it makes you feel sick.

With VR getting better, so is immersion, which means increasing numbers of people feel like their brains and bodies are at odds during what should be entertaining to them. If you are generally prone to motion/sea sickness though, it is more likely that you have a harder time in VR as well. And many throw in the towel, after having such an unpleasant experience. So, is there even a way to combat this?

Solution:

Yes. There are several things you can try before giving up on VR.

It is important to start slowly, step by step and let yourself, your eyes and your brain get used to the VR experience. Start by only immersing yourself for a few minutes, take breaks and keep building up your tolerance. There are pills, just like for ordinary motion sickness, but that shouldn’t be your go to solution.

Another thing is to change the way you are interacting with the VR world by keeping your eyes steady and focused. If you move your head and eyes around a lot and very quickly, you’ll get disoriented much more easily, so try to avoid that – especially when you are in a fast paced animation. Try to keep your gaze focused, preferably in the middle of the screen to avoid nausea. And it’s also worth trying to move less, more slowly and adequately to the scene you are in currently.

Content is key: Sometimes, VR videos are cut in a way that is too fast paced or too wiggly, so that you can’t help but feel nauseous. High quality VR content is really important for a good experience. Don’t write off VR once and for all, because of one badly edited piece of content.

What else you can do to make VR safer:

Now you know what you can do to combat most of the side effects that are possible with VR. 

Want a more scientific review of what factors cause certain side effects of VR? Then check out this study that examines the user, the hardware and the content in its entirety.

Safety first! Next to combating side effects, here is some more advice on how to make your VR experience safer:

  • Special conditions: If you are elderly, pregnant or have conditions such as mental disorders, heart problems, vision anomalies, epilepsy or have a history of seizures in general, you should consult a doctor before trying out VR. Same goes for people with implanted medical devices like cardiac pacemakers, hearing aids or defibrillators.
  • Other conditions: Refrain from VR, if you are sleep-deprived, intoxicated, have a cold or are already feeling a headache or nausea. VR experiences might accelerate these feelings.
  • Supervise kids: Keep exposure as low as possible for kids, as any side effects could affect children even more and long-term effects are not yet fully known.
  • Headset Hygiene: Keep your headsets clean and disinfect them regularly, especially when sharing them with others. Otherwise you risk spreading diseases or causing skin irritation.
  • Safe space: Full circle back to the beginning, keep the risk of hurting yourself low by clearing the space you need to interact in VR. Remove objects that you could stumble over or bump into. Ideally, you have someone nearby that can keep an eye out for you.

Why is VR worth using?

Side effects might sound scary, and you might think why even bother with VR then? Well, a lot of people don’t even experience any discomfort from interacting with VR in the first place, so it’s worth a try either way.

And remember, most side effects are short term and easily managed, so you don’t need to be afraid.

As the VR industry keeps growing, and VR becomes more and more common for private as well as business use, you might miss out on many experiences and opportunities when giving up on VR out of fear.

There are a whole bunch of benefits that come from using VR, ranging from better learning experiences, heightened business productivity to heightend emotional intelligence and so much more.

To us, VR is always worth the ‘risk’. Especially, when the risk is so comparably low. So yes, VR is safe to use. Even more so, when you are properly prepared.

Smart VR Lab develops and produces training content for businesses across multiple industries. High quality VR content for a low risk of side effects. To transform your business, simply contact Smart VR Lab for a demo and set up a meeting with our team. If you have questions on anything related to VR, you can always send us a mail to info@smartvrlab.nl

 

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