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3D Movies and Headache Pain

Remember when you left the theater after seeing Avatar in 3D, and everyone was raving about how cool it was—but all you could think about was the massive headache you were experiencing?

New 3D movies are hitting theaters every month, including recent flicks like The Lion King 3D and Dolphin Tale 3D. The technology is also invading our homes thanks to new 3D televisions and gaming systems. But if you’re a migraine or headache sufferer, it might be a good idea to stick to two dimensions.

How does 3D work?

In normal vision, each eye perceives things a little differently. In other words, what you see from you left eye is slightly different than what you see from your right. The brain processes these images together to create the perception of depth.

There are several ways to create 3D viewing, but most rely on forcing each of your eyes to view something slightly different and reconcile the disparity. The old-school red and blue glasses used two color layers projected on top of each other. Those goofy 3D glasses provided a separate image for each eye—blue light went into the blue lens, red light went into the red lens—and your brain worked to put the image together and give it depth. Modern systems are a little more complicated, but they generally still work by feeding a different stimulus to each eye.

Why does 3D give me headaches?

If you experience nausea, headaches, wooziness and motion sickness after watching something in 3D, eye care professionals say your vision (or eye muscle strain) is probably to blame. Watching media in 3D is a different kind of sensory experience for your eyes and brain. If your vision is not at its best, your eyes cannot work together properly to see the effects. And vision fatigue from trying to force your eyes to do the extra work can ultimately lead to headaches.

For migraine and headache sufferers, the impact of big, action-filled 3D movies can be even worse. Loud noises and motion are already migraine triggers—couple that with increased eyestrain, and it’s a dangerous combination.

If you simply must be part of the 3D experience, it might be a good idea to stop at your eye doctor’s office first. Or use a time-honored horror film tradition and look away from the screen during more intense action sequences.


Do you experience headache pain while watching 3D movies? Do you feel eye muscle strain when watching movies in 3D?

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