"Hugo," "Beauty and the Beast," "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (don’t judge) and soon, "Titanic." Has all this three-dimensional cinematic action got you wondering whether 3-D glasses are safe to use on the regular, as in two hours every other weekend?
Not to worry, my friends — you’ll be able to take in Billy Zane in his full, three-dimensional glory come April 6 without having to worry too much about any truly serious, long-lasting side effects. However, you may encounter some short-lived nausea or a headache (more on this in a bit) that you’d probably experience from watching a 194-minute historical romance set on a sinking cruise liner anyways without the aid of optical illusions.
Before moving on, some clarification: When I claimed that 3-D glasses are mostly OK to sport on a regular basis, I assume you’ll be enjoying a 3-D film while doing so and not operating a sewing machine, driving a forklift or performing a bris. I’d only rock ‘em away from your local multiplex or your home theater system if you need a pair of bad idea glasses to complement those bad idea jeans. After a recent screening of Wim Wenders’ brilliant 3-D documentary “Pina” (I know, it’s not “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chip-Wrecked” but I highly recommend it), I was so moved/dazed that I exited the darkened auditorium while still wearing the plastic glasses and promptly half-fell down a short stairs. Whoopsie.
But back to the nausea and headaches. Feeling a bit ookie, off-kilter or headache-y during a 3-D film isn’t that uncommon for some folks, especially those who insist on sitting way up front and/or subject themselves to frequent 3-D movie marathons. Notoriously anti-three-dimensional film critic Roger Ebert listed these unpleasant sensations as just one of his reasons for his hatred of 3-D cinema. To back things up, Ebert sites a Consumer Reports article that claims around 15 percent of moviegoers suffer from headaches and eyestrain during 3-D movies. And then there’s this from Deborah Friedman, professor of ophthalmology and neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center: “If your eyes are a little off to begin with then it's really throwing a whole degree of effort that your brain now needs to exert. This disparity for some people will give them a headache.”
Martin Banks, professor of optometry and vision science the University of California, Berkeley, believes 3-D movie watching to be a relatively safe form of recreation since the viewer (should be) situated at a reasonable distance from the screen. “We're more concerned with closer 3-D screens, like TVs, desktop computer displays and cell phones. In our study, we found that watching 3-D effects up close might cause eyestrain or make your vision blurry. Some people said their eyes were tired or complained of headaches,” Banks told iVillage.
So if that front-row screening of "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" left you feeling ill, perhaps it’s time to give the third dimension a break for a bit. No harm done. Personally when it comes to the health effects of reusable 3-D glasses, I’d be more alarmed about the unsavories that can potentially be crawling around on them. In 2010, Good Housekeeping tested reusable 3-D movie glasses at seven theaters in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area and found them to be covered with the germs responsible for serious maladies such as food poisoning, pneumonia, sepsis, staph infections and, of course, pinkeye.
As you’ve probably seen, most theaters have boxes for patrons to deposit the glasses post-film. In many but not all cases, the glasses are collected, cleaned, repackaged and then put back into commission. Germ-eradicating cleaning techniques vary with some companies using commercial-grade dishwashers or dishwasher-like machines (no, not autoclaves). Top 3-D eyewear purveyor RealD uses a combination of heat and cleaning agents to sanitize the glasses collected through the company’s recycling program before they’re shipped back out to theaters. Still, I’d smuggle in some disinfecting wipes to the theater along with that box of Charleston Chews to play it safe. And on the topic of playing it safe, Italy’s ministry of health, citing hygiene risks, confiscated over 7,000 pairs of reusable 3-D glasses from cinemas during the height of "Avatar" mania.
So there you have it: Although potentially germ-ridden and the cause of headaches, there are plenty of things out there a lot more detrimental to your health than a pair of 3-D specs. Wear ‘em with pride but take it easy if eyestrain ever becomes an issue.