Blinking plays an important role in protecting the eyes, and the use of computers has been associated with a reduction in the blink rate. The goal of this study was to evaluate the effect of a virtual reality headset on blinking and lipid layer thickness and to compare these data to those associated with a conventional desktop monitor.
Two experiments were performed to compare the effect of 20minutes of use of a virtual reality headset (FOVE) and 20minutes of use of a desktop monitor on the frequency and length of blinks (experiment 1, 15 participants) and on the thickness of the lipid layer as measured by Lipiview (experiment 2, 12 participants).
In the first experiment, the blink rate [F(1.83)=4.3, P=0.04, β=0.36] and duration [F(1.83)=13, P=0.001, β=0.35] increased with time under both conditions, but no statistical difference was found between the two conditions (headset vs. desktop monitor) either for blink rate [rmANOVA F(1.11)=0.01, P=0.92; headset: 15.1 blinks, 95% CI: 12.6 to 17.6 blinks; desktop: 14.6 blinks, 95% CI: 13.6 to 15.7 blinks] or for blink duration [rmANOVA F(1.11)=4.534, P=0.06; headset: 205.75ms, 95% CI: 200.9 to 210.6ms; desktop: 202.82ms, 95% CI: 198.2 to 207.5ms]. However, strong individual variations were observed. Evaluation of simulator sickness and visual fatigue by questionnaire showed no significant differences between the two conditions (SSQ simulator sickness questionnaire: V=46, P=0.62; VFQ visual fatigue questionnaire: V=15.5, P=0.13). In the second experiment, the lipid layer thickness increased significantly after use of the VR headset [F(1.18)=11.03, P=0.004, headset: 76.2nm, desktop: 58.8nm].
In terms of recommendations, the effect of virtual reality headsets on blink duration and frequency during a moderate exposure (20minutes) is comparable to that of a conventional desktop monitor. However, the strong individual variations observed, the lack of reliable tests to evaluate this individual sensitivity, and the significant increase in lipid layer thickness in experiment 2 suggest the value of a more detailed investigation, in particular with consideration of a longer exposure time and other tear film parameters.

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