"You stare at that screen any longer you're going to go blind." The famous words of my Mom growing up. For many of us we knew extended video game sessions could put a strain on our eyes, but just how bad can it be?
Today we had the great opportunity to sit down and chat with Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford an optometrist in Tampa, FL to talk about modern day video games and how they impact your eyes. So without further ado here is our interview with Dr. Bonilla-Warford:
Hi, thanks for taking time to talk with us today at Darkstation.com! Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, what you do, etc?
My name is Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford. I am a VSP optometrist from Tampa, FL. In addition to providing comprehensive eye examinations, I specialize in binocular visual development of children and adults. My specialty is generally referred to as Vision Therapy (VT). This means I work with people whose eyes don’t work well together to teach them how their eyes can work better as a team.
So to get started how big of a problem can video games or computer usage be to a persons eyes?
Playing video games can be very stressful for the eyes. If the visual system is overwhelmed, gamers can have blurry vision, eye strain or headaches. If the eyes are too stressed to move properly, double vision and reduced performance can result. All this is made worse under stressful situations, overall fatigue, and times of extended mental concentration.
Great video games generate stressful situations, require extended mental concentration, and lead to fatigue, so gamers are already predisposed to have eye and vision problems. But the game may be so engaging that all of the eye-related symptoms are not noticed until the game is stopped. That is why eye doctors recommend taking frequent breaks.
I have read studies that video games can actually help stimulate the eye. What is your opinion on that?
This is completely true. There are some video games that are used clinically to increase visual perceptiveness and eye-hand coordination. I have a Nintendo 3DS for the office to use with patients and hope to have a Wii soon.
For children who have amblyopia (lazy eye) doctors will often recommend they wear a patch over the good eye to stimulate the “lazy” eye. This works best if the child is engaged in an activity that requires detailed visual judgment. Video games do this.
As someone that has a lazy eye is there any added benefits or risk for “digital eye”?
Well, there are disadvantages for playing any 3D games, as people with lazy eye often do not see the visual effects of 3-D. As for video 2D games, often someone who has lazy eye will also have other visual problems, such as a delay in focusing or moving the eyes. This can increase symptoms and impair game performance. But the general recommendations do not change.
What are some tips that you can give our readers on ensuring that we are not damaging our eyesight?
Rule #1 - take frequent breaks. There is a rule of thumb that eye doctors tell patients called the “20/20/20 Rule.” This means that every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at something specific 20 feet away for 20 seconds, like a clock or a picture.
Blinking is important. People at the computer blink one third as much as when they are not looking at a screen. As a result, their eyes have a difficult time staying moist, which can cause problems
Remember to talk to your eye doctor during your annual exam about your computer/game use and let him/her know if you experience blurriness, double vision, burning or discomfort when playing games. Some people think those things are just “normal” and ignore it, but that isn’t a good idea. Your doctor can do specialized testing to determine if there’s a problem and treat it.
With 3D becoming nearly standard on all new TV’s you often hear that people receive headaches from viewing these images. Is 3D something that can be harmful to your eyes?
There’s a lot of discussion now in in the media and among eye doctors about 3D technology. In fact, in a recent VSP Vision Care study (http://vspblog.com/cvs/3d/) on the perceptions of 3D, one quarter of parents were concerned that watching 3D would harm their children’s eyes. While some children and adults experience symptoms like nausea, headaches, and dizziness when watching 3D, optometrists agree that 3D technology will not cause long-term damage to the visual system and is safe when used in moderation. In fact, 3D technology can act as a diagnostic tool for visual problems. If a child can’t see 3D – they need to have their eyes checked by an eye doctor.
As many of our readers have kids and some of which are getting to the age where they are just starting to get interested in video games what advice can you give parents with making sure their children’s eyes develop properly.
Moderation is even more important with kids. Parents should help kids build good habits when playing video games. Children are less likely to be self-aware so they may not notice visual problems. Even if they do notice them, they are not likely to tell their parents because they don’t want the games taken away. Parents should observe children when they’re playing games and watch for red, watery eyes, or rubbing of the eyes. They should check in with their kids regularly to find out if they’re experiencing any symptoms such as eyestrain or headache.
Also, several studies have shown that children who go outside frequently are less likely to become nearsighted. So make sure kids drop the games sometime and engage in outdoor games. Remember to use sunglasses and sunscreen!
One thing I have always struggled with was distance from a screen whether it was a TV screen or a computer monitor. What sort of the rule of thumb for ensuring your not straining your eyes by being to close or to far from the screen?
Make sure your computer monitor is at least two feet away from your eyes and not at an unusual angle. For TVs, sit far enough back so you can see the whole screen easily, such as 6 or 8 feet. If you use a handheld game, make sure you hold the game as far from your eyes as the distance between your elbow and first knuckle. It’s best if there are soft lights on in the room so there’s not a big brightness difference between the screen and the surrounding space.
Is there any other advice you can give our readers?
If you take care of your eyes, it will not only keep them healthier longer, but will actually make you a better gamer. This means getting a comprehensive eye exam every year. Unfortunately, people often don’t think their eyes may be causing discomfort, instead they just chalk up a headache to lack of sleep or too much Mountain Dew….
If you want more information on the impacts video games can have on your eyes please visit VSP EyeFiles by going to: Facebook.com/VSPVisionCare. We want to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford for his time and for giving us some great insight into the "digital eye."
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.