Dry eyes? Don’t neglect your headset!

Wearing a virtual reality headset when working in front of a (computer) screen may protect the eyes from dryness.

Virtual reality headsets do not only entertain but may also be useful in protecting the eyes during long hours of computer use.

Staring at a computer screen for several hours a day, combined with a lower relative humidity indoors, predisposes office workers to symptoms of dry eye. This is due to a decreased rate of blinking and subsequently a higher rate of tear evaporation. Aside from dry eyes, individuals who use computers for long periods during the day also have more frequent headaches, as well as other ocular complaints such as visual fatigue.

Moisture goggles have previously been tested to alleviate symptoms of dry eyes. These work by providing a warm and humid environment for the ocular surface.

This present study sought to evaluate the benefits of using virtual reality (VR) headsets on ocular surface and tear-film parameters. In addition to providing the same effect as heated moisture goggles, VR headsets may also be able to simulate more relaxing environments, such as in the home or at the beach.

Twenty (20) participants were recruited who fulfilled the inclusion criteria of no previous or current ophthalmic conditions and no contact lens wear. There were 2 treatment groups: conventional computer display use and VR headset wear. Both groups were required to engage in 40 minutes of continuous computer use.

Results showed that there was a mean temperature difference of +9.9 oC between the two exposures, although the increase on the eyelid and corneal surfaces were at best 0.5oC. This was associated with improvements in the lipid layer of the tear film and in the tear film breakup time. However, there was a decreased local relative humidity, likely due to the temperature changes. In addition, the design of this study did not allow for the long-term evaluation of any protective effect of VR headset use on the corneal surface.

Nevertheless, this preliminary study showed that wearing VR headsets is a viable option for computer operators in the modern workplace.

Turnbull, P., Wong, J., Feng, J., Wang, M., & Craig, J. (2019). Effect of virtual reality headset wear on the tear film: A randomised crossover study. Contact Lens and Anterior Eye. doi: 10.1016/j.clae.2019.08.003

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