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What are the Health and Safety Concerns of VR Headset Use?

October 01, 2015

As more and more developers introduce more and more Virtual Reality devices and content, I have to wonder about the safety of VR. I found out a few things I would like to share. Most of this information is from a study by P.J. Costello from 1997. Sounds old, but though VR has changed recently, our bodies have not changed…much…I guess I have gained a few pounds since 1997 and have a few more gray hairs!

 

Physical Concerns

  • Repetitive Stress Injury
    • General term to describe muscle, nerve and tendon pain caused by carrying out prolonged, repeated movements - as seen in the use of mice and joysticks.

VR Virgin Solution: Take frequent short breaks, much like any computer use, or game playing.  Take a 10-15 minute break every 30 minutes whether you think you need it or not. Stop, relax, stretch your muscles do something else for a short time. (I once went to the doctor because my thumb muscles were hurting soooo bad! The diagnosis was that I was playing too much Bejeweled Blitz on my iPad…WOW, I felt …ridiculous!

  • Weight/Posture
    • HMDs (Head Mounted Devices) add weight to the user's head, causing strain on the neck. The weight of the headset also may make you feel the need to prop it up using your hands. This, along with other positions you may need to take to use VR headsets may affect posture after long periods of time.

VR Virgin Solutions: Look for a light weight device, use for short periods of time, and remember to stretch periodically. Adjust the head straps and lenses of the HMD correctly for each user.  Poor posture is something most of us have problems with… don’t agree? Ask my chiropractor!

  • Immersion Injuries
    • These occur when you are immersed in VR and are unaware of your surroundings. You are functionally blind in the real world and your attention to reality is distracted, putting you at risk of running into objects in the room, losing your balance, or even falling down.

VR Virgin Solutions: Make sure the area where you are using your HMD is clear from clutter, objects like dirty clothes or soda cans on the floor, no exposed electrical cords, or doting pets.  Use your device seated if possible until you are conformable with the feeling and immersion experience. Allow your body to adjust gradually to VR (5-10 minutes at a time and then work your way up)

  • Hygiene Issues
    • HMDs are potential fomites ( a harmless item capable of harboring pathogenic organisms and aid in the transmission of infection). Heat from the HMD and human body along with accumulating sweat from the user create an ideal environment for airborne pathogens and skin flora.

VR Virgin Solution: Do not use HMDs with foam face padding. Foam will absorb facial oils, sweat and other moisture…you know what happens to your dish washing sponge over time… Look for devices with padding that can be cleaned with either a disinfectant cloth after use or one with padding that can be removed and washed or just removed and replaced. Moisture and condensation may develop over long play periods so look for devices with several means of venting heat and air.

Well now that we know what we are subjecting our bodies to, let’s move on to Physiological issues address in the study.

Physiological

  • Visual
    • Of 20 subjects exposed to virtual reality, 12 experience headache and eye strain. (Study by Mon-Williams, Wann and Rushton, 1993)
    • The greater the mismatch between the IPD ( inter-pupillary distance: distance between the centers of the user’s pupils) and IOD (inter-ocular distance: distance between the center of the ocular lenses) of an HMD, the greater the side effects will be (Regan and Price 1993)

VR Virgin Solution: Look for a VR Viewing device HMD with adjustable lenses so you can adjust the IOD to more closely match the distance between your eyes.

  • Simulator Sickness
    • It’s like motion sickness without motion
    • Simulator sickness has many sources and many symptoms, so it is difficult to predict individual susceptibility. The sickness may distract the user from the virtual environment, causing many to leave the experience and never. Effects of simulator sickness can occur 8-10 hours after use                                                                             (Kellog, Castore and Coward, 1980

VR Virgin Solution: Ask your doctor before use if you are pregnant, elderly, have binocular vision abnormalities, psychiatric disorders, heart condition. And of course if it makes you feel bad, stop doing it! Vacuuming makes me feel bad so I stopped doing that years ago!

  • Getting “Hooked”
    • People often become obsessed with hobbies and VR is no different
    • May experience hallucinations, retreat from reality, dissociation (Wilson, 1996)
    • American Academy of Neurology found a link between videogames and dopamine causing a rush, feeling of excitement etc. In VR the reward is more real and therefore more dopamine is released. There is a higher chance of addiction.

VR Virgin Solution:  I guess I have no solution…addicts you know who you are…be careful! Remember my Bejeweled Blitz thumb. Did I stop playing, NO, I just limited my time on the iPad. Problem solved.

Other warnings associated with VR use:

  • Not for kids under 13. Adults should watch kids 13+ for any of the mentioned symptoms. Limit their time as it will affect hand-eye coordination, balance and multitasking abilities
  • Seizures: 1/4000 may have severe dizziness, seizures, blackouts triggered by light patterns and flashes. This occurs more in people 20 and under.
  • Ask your doctor before use if you are pregnant, elderly, have binocular vision abnormalities, psychiatric disorders, heart condition
  • Do not use while walking, driving, operating machinery, etc.
  • Radio frequency interference warning for those with pacemakers

Well now you have it….

Remember not to let these warnings and concerns scare you away from trying VR and having a great, fun experience. As we all know, sitting at a desk, flying in a plane, driving a car, taking prescription medications, and watching TV all have similar consequences and health risks and we all enjoy each of these activities every day.

 

Bye For now!





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