Discomfort when watching 3-D films may indicate an eye problem

After hearing about how great 3-D movies are, you and the family finally make the trip to the theatre to see the latest and greatest feature. About 20 minutes into the film you start to feel uncomfortable. You look away from the screen to see if the rest of the family is starting to feel a little… off. When you ask your wife if she’s feeling a little dizzy she shushes you and keeps eating her popcorn, barely blinking as she watches the dancing images. If you close your eyes for a little while, you start to feel better. But soon, your son elbows you and tells you not to fall asleep — the best part is coming up! You try to get back into the movie, but that sick feeling starts to come over you again.

Until this moment, you may have prided yourself on having perfect vision because you’ve never needed to wear glasses, but you are experiencing something that, according to one study published in the Annals of Ophthalmology, affects over 56 per cent of people between the ages of 18 and 38 (though the problem can affect people of all ages). The headaches, blurred vision, dizziness, and feelings of nausea that can bother you while watching 3-D movies can be blamed on a number of eye issues grouped under the umbrella term “binocular conditions.” These problems can be the result of slight misalignments of the eyes, unequal vision between the eyes, or the eyes’ inability to work together as a team.

The American Optometric Association estimates that between 1 and 3 per cent of the population have profound visual disabilities that make 3-D viewing extremely difficult or impossible. For the rest of us who are able to see the 3-D effects but who just happen to feel a little extra queasy during the action sequences, a course of Vision Therapy with a qualified eye health professional can likely make the viewing experience more enjoyable. Working to correct visual teaming problems, such as convergence insufficiency (eyes unable to turn inward) or convergence excess (eyes turn inward too much) can also help relieve eyestrain that you might experience while reading or working at a computer.

But wait! You are still stuck in the middle of a crowded row of moviegoers all at the edge of their seats as virtual swords slice through the air. If you don’t want to leave the theatre, try to give your eyes a break anyway. You can always wait to see the parts you miss at home when the 2-D DVD comes out (unless, of course, you just got a brand new 3-D television for the holidays).


Try this exercise called “palming” to get some immediate relief right in your seat. Palming helps to relax the muscles and stimulate the acupuncture points around the eyes. It also brings healing energy to the eyes through increased blood circulation.

•  First, remove those 3-D glasses — they make you look sort of silly anyway.

•  Take a couple of deep breaths and close your eyes gently. Place your elbows on your knees and lean forward, allowing your head to rest in your hands.

•  Now, place the palm of your left hand over your left eye with your fingers touching your forehead. The hollow of your palm should be directly over the eye, but not touching it. Be sure to leave enough room to blink. Set the heel of your hand on your cheekbone.

•  Then, place your right hand over your right eye with your fingers crossing over the fingers of your left hand. The right palm should be placed over the eye and the heel of the hand should rest on the cheekbones just as you did on the left.

It’s important to keep breathing as you do this (hopefully you won’t be too overcome by the smell of all that popcorn). Full, deep breaths will help your eyes as well as the rest of your body relax.

The temporary discomfort that you may have experienced while watching a 3-D movie could be telling you that you have a binocular condition that forces your eyes to work extra hard to see the real 3-D world that you live in all the time. An eye exercise like palming can be done at any time throughout your day (preferably someplace where the air is fresher and things are a bit quieter than they are in this hypothetical holiday cinema) to help relieve eye stress from anything from movie watching, to computer use, to other close work like reading or sewing.

So, no, you are not the only one finds the whole 3-D sensation a bit sickening. The good news is that you can probably teach your eyes to work together with the help of a qualified optometrist. Who said today’s movies can’t teach us anything — they just may be letting you know that your eyes need some attention.

Marc Grossman, Doctor of Optometry and Licensed Acupuncturist and co-founder of Natural Eye Care, Inc., has authored five books on natural eye care (titles include: Natural Eye Care: Your Guide to Healthy Vision and Greater Vision: A Pathway to Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Transformation) and lectures nationally and internationally on holistic eye health. Learn more about his work at www.NaturalEyeCare.com.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Christopher Ames