Can 3-D Movies Hurt Your Eyes?

Get tips for viewing without straining your eyes
3-D glasses

Blockbuster season is in full swing, with more 3-D movie options than ever — from superhero fare like The Avengers to kid-friendly flicks such as Ice Age: Continental Drift.

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Donning funny glasses to view a 3-D movie in a theater and dodge the action spilling toward you isn’t easy for everyone, though. Both eyes must be able to focus equally and function fully — a level of binocular vision not required for many of life’s ordinary tasks.

“In these movies, the light is split up, and this creates depth problems. People are straining to see because they are used to seeing with two eyes,” says Ronald R. Krueger, MD, Director of Refractive Surgery at Cleveland Clinic’s Cole Eye Institute.

Normally, when our eyes focus on something, our brains process information from each eye separately, fusing the data into one real-life 3-D image, adds Paul Rychwalski, MD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Cole Eye Institute.

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Take a pause — it refreshes

Dr. Krueger recommends that if you are watching a 3-D movie and your eyes feel strained, your vision becomes unclear or you develop a headache, take the cinema glasses off. Then close your eyes, and relax a minute before trying to watch the movie again.

Walking into the lobby may give kids a break. The intensity of 3-D movies and the length of films like The Avengers, at two hours plus, can cause emotional overload. “A 3-D movie can be a little overwhelming for anyone, and children can express those feelings as headaches or nausea from motion sickness,” notes Dr. Rychwalski.

When to get your vision checked

If movie-going leaves you concerned about your vision, talk to your eye care provider. One test you might be given is the Titmus test, in which you look at images while wearing polarizing lenses to identify images that seem to “jump out.” Children are given tasks such as grabbing one of the wings on a fly in a photograph. Testing measures how well the eyes fuse various images into one and can reveal genuine problems.

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“Some people have a better ability to get the depth required to really enjoy a 3-D movie,” says Dr. Krueger.

However, he adds that most people have sufficient binocular vision to enjoy the 3-D experience. “If you have trouble, don’t give up on the movie,” he advises. “Unless you have a real history of eye problems, you should be able to get it to work for you.”

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