American Optometric Association says viewing 3-D not necessarily bad

The debate over whether viewing 3-D entertainment can be harmful to your health continues to vex consumers of all ages, and it doesn't help that there seems to be an endless wave of conflicting claims regarding the “truth.”

Following Nintendo’s warning to small children to avoid viewing its 3-D games, the American Optometric Association (AOA), representing U.S. optometrists, said 3-D viewing of movies, TV and even on Nintendo’s 3DS game console isn’t necessarily bad for adults or children.

In fact, the optometrists group said 3-D viewing for children might actually help uncover subtle disorders that, left uncorrected, often result in learning difficulties. In this context, it is not enough to have 20/20 visual acuity. Eye muscles must be coordinated well enough to experience single, clear and comfortable vision by maintaining alignment of both eyes.

The brain must also match appropriate accommodative or focusing power with where the eyes are aimed. Often, subtle problems with these vision skills can lead to rapid fatigue of the eyes and loss of 3-D viewing, but also loss of place when reading or copying, reduced reading comprehension, poor grades and increased frustration at school.

Discomfort when viewing 3-D in movies, TV and Nintendo’s 3DS may be an important sign of undetected vision disorders, the AOA said. Parents should be aware that current vision screening technologies employed in schools and pediatricians’ offices cannot substitute for comprehensive eye exams that detect and treat these problems.

Nintendo had issued a warning that children under 6 years of age should not use the 3DS in 3-D mode. While studies on the effects of prolonged 3-D viewing on young children remain to be done, leaning toward the side of caution is advisable in guiding children to use these devices in moderation, the AOA said.

Because vision develops from birth, it is crucial to uncover the type of vision disorders that may interfere with Nintendo 3-D viewing at an early age. Although success can be attained in treating conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (eye turn) beyond age 6, the outcome is always better when children are treated as soon as signs of these problems are detected. Accordingly, the AOA said, children younger than 6 can use the 3DS in 3-D mode if their visual system is developing normally.

The AOA and the American Public Health Association both encourage a regular comprehensive eye examination schedule for children at approximately ages 6 to 12 months, 2 to 3 years and 5 years of age. If children experience the “Three Ds of 3-D viewing,” discomfort, dizziness or lack of depth, it is crucial to have a comprehensive eye examination by a doctor of optometry, the organization said.