The virtual reality is experiencing increasing use, in a variety of fields, in particular video games. The user is immersed in a virtual world entirely computer generated via the wearing a head-mounted display. He can walk there and enter rooms, for example, by the movements of his body. Its growing use among the general public has led ANSES (National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety) to study the impact of exposure to this emerging technology and possible associated health effects. His report, made public in June 2021, indicates that certain adverse health effects have been sufficiently documented to allow its working group to highlight them while for others, the lack of data in the scientific literature does not allow a conclusion to be drawn.
The Agency firstly recalls that its survey carried out in 2019 showed that the average duration of a virtual reality sessionis greater than one hour.
- In the adults, users are more often men (57%) with an average age of 40, from higher socio-professional categories and having a good command of technological tools.
- In the children, virtual reality is mainly associated with video games and a predominance of boys is also observed (55%), the average age being 12-13 years.
But what are the risks for people who engage in this practice? ANSES informs that while the possible long-term effects are still poorly documented, short-term effects appear to be reversible and limited.
What is cyber kinetosis? What symptoms?
The main risk related to virtual reality exposure concerns the fact that it can disrupt the sensory system and lead to symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, pallor, loss of balance. These symptoms are grouped under the name of “cyber kinetosis”, which is the subject of a very large majority of the publications listed. “It can appear very quickly after the start of the experiment (in less than 5 minutes). The possibility of appearance is very dependent on the content (roller coaster ride, or on the contrary calm landscape, …), the visual field solicited (the larger it is, the more intense the symptoms can be), or the visual interface and the mode of interaction. », Explain the ANSES experts.
The visual symptoms are most common in kinetosis and can result in eye strain,of migraines et headache, a blurry vision or a feeling of dry eyes. These disappear in the following minutes or hours. Following a session, a modification of sensorimotor and perceptual capacities may also appear temporarily, which alters manual skill or the ability to orient the body.
A device used by virtual reality can also be involved: light emitting diode displays (LED). Potentially rich in blue light, they can disrupt the biological rhythm (delay in falling asleep, disturbance of sleep, etc.) when viewed in the evening or at night. », Notes ANSES.
Continue research to find out the possible long-term effects
It also invites people prone to epilepsy to be vigilant since exposure to the light emitted by these LED screens (blinking sometimes imperceptible by the eye) can trigger seizures. In general, ANSES emphasizes that the intensity of all these effects “depends on the exposure devices (interface) and the content offered, but also on the individual sensitivity of each. ”
As for the harmful effects for which it is not possible to conclude, the Agency mentions long-term disorders, for example musculoskeletal problems. Thus, “very little data is available on possible neurological consequences or the effects on development, these deserve to be further investigated, ”she notes.
Still, it is possible to avoid the occurrence of these effects by adopting some good habits.
- Stop as soon as symptoms appear such as nausea, dizziness or sweating.
- It is also advisable to observe a rest time after a session. “The body makes a great effort to adapt to the virtual world with which it interacts, which can cause some fatigue. It is therefore important to plan a rest period of an hour or two before resuming an activity requiring high concentration, such as driving a car, ”says ANSES.
- To limit blue light effects, sessions two hours before bedtime are to be avoided, in particular for children and adolescents who are more sensitive to them.
- Finally, if no major health risk is mentioned in its report, the Agency would like the use of virtual reality either to be avoided for people with epilepsy or those identified as sensitive: pregnant women, people suffering from motion sickness, having balance disorders or prone to migraines.
Its experts say that one area of application of virtual and augmented reality technologies was not taken into account in the report: the therapeutic framework. However, it is through this that it would be possible, over the next few years, to better understand the “mechanisms at play during their use, which could help to identify adverse effects mirroring not yet documented or not yet considered, ”concludes the Agency.