Going down the virtual reality (VR) rabbit hole may trigger changes to a user’s choroid, according to a new study. Reports of choroidal thickness (ChT) changes following sustained near work motivated researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, to determine whether near work within a head-mounted display could also affect such changes. Their study compared the effects of sustained VR and traditional computer play and found that the choroid responded differently after headset use. The team presented their findings at ARVO 2019 in Vancouver last month.

Researchers recruited 13 young adult students, eight of whom were not myopic. The study involved two visits where participants performed the same gaming tasks for 40 minutes, with one visit played on a VR platform and the other on a personal computer. At each visit, the study measured ChT before and after play, as well as extracted values at several retinal positions (subfoveal and 2250nm, 1500nm and 750mm nasal and temporal to the fovea) from images using an automated algorithm.

Regardless of the participants’ refractive error status, 11 of the 13 showed subfoveal ChT thinning following computer play (mean -16.62mm; range: +52 to -119.6mm). After VR use, a relative reduced thinning or thickening of this region occurred for all but one subject (mean 6.09mm thicker; range: +123.36 to -87.86mm). Although ChT changes in the periphery were more variable, researchers noticed a trend where non-myopes showed relative thinning, while myopes showed thickening, at the nasal 2250nm location following VR play compared with computer play.

The study concluded that further research should explore the temporal profile of the choroidal response, the visual stimuli driving such changes and the significance of refractive error, noting possible myopia onset and progression.

Harb EN, Godinez A, Davuluru S, et al. Changes in choroidal thickness following sustained VR play. ARVO 2019. Abstract 4340.