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Smartphones, 3D Devices Cause Headaches and Eye Discomfort


Smartphones and other devices that have 3D (three-dimensional) displays like video games and computers are ubiquitous in our society, but there is a health-related price to be paid. Prolonged use of such 3D items can result in eye or visual discomfort, headaches, and fatigue, according to a new report in the Journal of Vision, and researchers believe they know why.

Smartphones place demands on our eyes

A new study published in the Journal of Vision reports that symptoms increasingly associated with use of smartphones and other 3D devices may be because they demand the eyes do two things at the same time: focus on the screen and adjust to the distance of the screen’s images.

At the University of California, Berkeley, a research team enrolled 24 adults in a series of experiments and observed them as they used a variety of stereo 3D devices. Specifically they evaluated the impact on the subjects when placing the content in front of or behind the screen.

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The team found that devices viewed at a short distance, such as smartphones and desktop displays, stereo content that is placed in front of the screen is less comfortable than content placed behind the screen. However, when the subjects looked at a farther distance, as in a movie theater, stereo content placed behind the screen was less comfortable.

According to study author Martin S. Banks, professor of optometry and vision science at UC Berkeley, “discomfort associated with viewing Stereo 3D is a major problem that may limit the use of technology,” a problem that neither users nor manufacturers want to hear.

Physical discomfort from using 3D devices is more serious than suffering with a headache, however. Such 3D displays are important in medical imaging, surgical training, vision research, and other applications where visual precision is critical and can affect life-and-death decisions.

Given both the importance and popularity of smartphones and other stereo 3D devices, the study’s authors suggest more research be done that involves larger study populations (including children), and that guidelines be developed to account for the variations in displays and their applications and uses.

The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology