Virtual reality, augmented reality: what health risks for users?

Health, training, real estate, security, leisure… virtual reality and augmented reality are increasingly being used in a variety of fields. National Agency for Food Safety, Environment and Occupational Health (ANSES) wanted, in parallel with this deployment, to study more precisely the impact of the population’s exposure to these emerging technologies and the potential health effects associated with them. In particular, it invites users to follow some good practices to limit the unwanted effects associated with these new uses.

This expertise is the continuation of the work of the Agency, which for several years has been studying the impacts of new digital technologies – 3D, screens,… – on health, in a world where the applications of digital technologies are multiplying and where the uses are constantly evolving.

Very different applications

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are used in many fields, especially in professional ones: health and therapeutic care, training for airplane pilots for example, or in the field military. These technologies are also used by real estate agencies to provide apartment tour without leaving the house, in some museum or at home through video games or smartphone apps. Different media can be used: helmets, glasses or even smart phones integrated in the case to be placed in front of the eyes. To better interact with the virtual environment, other objects, such as costumes, are gradually developed.

Better understand the exposure of populations

Since very little exposure data is available, in 2019 ANSES carried out a survey to better understand the exposure of the French population to virtual and augmented reality. The following items are displayed:
– the average duration of a session is over an hour ;
– in adults, users are more often male (57%) with an average age of 40, from the highest socio-professional categories (43%) and with a good command of technological tools. of smart phone it is the first medium they turn to;
– in children, there is a slight predominance of boys (55%), and the average age is 12-13 years. Virtual reality is mainly related to video games AND game consoles are the first props used;
– within the framework of professional, both technologies are used, mainly for training, health and inventory management. Computer, video headsets or screens are the most used media.

Short-term, reversible and limited effects

Exposure to virtual reality can disrupt the sensory system and lead to symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, fainting, loss of balance… grouped together under the name “cyberkinetosis”. In people who are sensitive to it, these symptoms may appear in the first minutes of use. After a session, virtual reality can also induce a temporary modification of sensory, motor and perceptual skills and thus alter manual skills or the ability to orient the body.

Otherwise, ” Use of AR/VR devicess screens on LEDs potentially rich in blue light WHO, when viewed in the evening or at night, it can disrupt our biological rhythm (delay in falling asleep, sleep disturbance, etc.) recalls Dina Attia, scientific coordinator of this expert assessment at ANSES. Finally, exposure to the temporal modulation of the light emitted by these LED displays – flashing light sometimes invisible to the eye – can cause epileptic seizures in people with favorable conditions.

Adopt some good practices to limit the health effects

To avoid these effects, ANSES recommends that users:
– stop using AR/VR equipment as soon as symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, sweating, fainting, etc. appear;
– to observe a break one to two hours after using AR/VR devices. ” The body makes a considerable effort to adapt to the virtual world it interacts with, which can cause some fatigue. It is therefore important to plan a rest period of an hour or two before resuming an activity that requires high concentration, such as driving your car for example. explains Dina Attia; – avoid any exposure to screens two hours before bedtime, especially for children and teenagers, who are more sensitive to blue light;
– to avoid using these technologies for people epileptic or persons identified as susceptible: pregnant women, persons suffering from motion sickness, with balance disorders or prone to migraines, etc.

The agency recommendsinform users potential health effects and good usage practices to prevent them, through media dedicated to professionals and specific communication to the general public.

Continue research to discover possible long-term effects

Given the variety of VR/AR application fields, the evolution of uses should be documented by integrating exposure to these technologies in various studies on living and working conditions. Cyberkinetosis remains the best documented effect. Very few data are currently available on possible developmental neurological sequelae or effects long term, these deserve further investigation. Beyond VR/AR, and to complement its work on the health impact of new technologies, ANSES has undertaken expert evaluation work on the effects of digital tools on the health of children and adolescents. Published in 2022, this study aims to identify ways to prevent potential health impacts and better regulate their use.

Virtual reality, augmented reality: what risks? what best practices to adopt? ANSES, expertise, 24.06.2022

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