The 3D effect

3D movies may be great to watch, but they strain your eyes causing severe headaches

The new digital 3D technology has made our movie-watching experience exciting. But for some, a prolonged 3D session of focussing on rich 3D images may result in an aching head. And, if it does, it could very well indicate an eye problem.

For people with normal vision, this headache or disorientation after watching a 3D film is usual because we have trained our eyes mostly to see movies in 2D. In 2D films, we see images in one plane, so the focussing efforts of the eye are minimal. No strain, no headache.

However, 3D images are stacked in front of or behind some other layer depending on what the filmmakers want you to see. Our eyes have a natural tendency to bring images which are closer or further away into focus.

3D camerawork frustrates this instinct as, here, you are meant to focus where the director wants you to. If you start looking elsewhere—at a creature or an animal on the side—you cannot focus on it and this gives you a disoriented, sometimes nauseous feeling. That translates into greater mental effort, triggering a headache.

A minor, short-term headache immediately after watching a 3D movie is usually not considered serious. But a long-lasting headache, nausea, disorientation could well mean an eye problem. People who do not have normal depth perception cannot see in 3D at all.

If you experience headaches after watching 3D films, you should not ignore it. It could be a red alert especially in case of children. This is like a 'screening test' for some eye conditions, which often go undetected like anisometropia [unequal spectacle powers], strabismus [squint] or amblyopia [lazy eye].

Many people with minor eye problems, such as a muscle imbalance remain undetected as our brain under normal circumstances adjusts naturally. Some conditions may be congenital, may develop later in life due to systemic diseases such as diabetes, thyroid conditions, myasthenia gravis or due to
nerve palsies.

Firstly, visit your eye specialist periodically to ensure that your eyes are healthy and your vision is normal.

Secondly, disregard your experience with 2D movies and stay focussed on what is right in front of you—what you should be paying attention to. Concentrate on what the filmmaker wants you to see, focussing too long on the background details is what triggers headaches and disorientation.

Nowadays, advanced movie making techniques are used to make the images easier for our brain to view and keep up with the 3D illusion. However, as 3D moves towards television, more viewers are expected to have eye problems. This is because sports such as football, which have quick movements, will be even harder to focus on for long.

If you face any of the above-mentioned discomforts for a prolonged period, report to your doctor as soon as possible.

Care for your eyes

You can avoid most eye problems simply if you take a few simple precautions:

  • Have routine and regular eye check ups [which includes a dilated eye examination] with an eye specialist and don't just visit a doctor only in situations like eye infection or blurred vision. Often people believe that they need eye examinations only after 40. This is false, as there are several asymptomatic, yet treatable, eye diseases [most notably glaucoma] that can begin prior to your 40s.
  • Get your little children checked regularly. Many parents avoid testing their children, thinking that they maybe too young to answer the doctor. They are not aware that there are special charts and tests that even check vision in children as young as a few months old.
  • Do not treat the optician as your primary eye care professional. The check up for spectacles according to most is equivalent to an eye check up for the health of their eyes and they never visit an eye doctor for detailed eye check ups.

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Anand Shroff
Anand Shroff MS (Ophth), F.I.C.S., consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, specialist in – Cataract surgery, Glaucoma, Squint, keratoconus and Laser eye procedures - ReLEx SMILE, LASIK, Bladeless LASIK, EpiLASIK, C3R. He practices in Mumbai at Shroff Eye Hospital- Bandra & Marine Drive.

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