Cybersickness: A New Pandemic

Ever since the advent of modern technology during the late 90’s and early 2000’s people all over the world have become increasingly attached to looking at a phone, tablet or computer for various activities. It may seem fun to be able to browse online, watch a video or play a game for hours but it also has it’s side effects. Activities online have increased since last year when people were isolated at home due to the pandemic. People had to work at home or communicate with others especially on Zoom or Skype. This resulted in people sitting in one place for too long, looking at the computer screen longer than necessary.

The side effects, known as cybersickness include postural instability, headache, eyestrain and tiredness. It happens when prolonged exposure to computer or phone screens causes disorientation of the senses. Matthew Crowson, M.D., a neurotologist at Massachusetts Eye and Ear explains this condition.

“Say you’re scrolling on a screen for a long period of time and it’s filling up your visual field—that can give your body the sense that it’s moving. However, your body knows that you’re not moving. It’s that conflict of signals that drives the symptoms of cybersickness.”

Most of the research devoted to cybersickness has been connected to virtual reality with 20 – 95% of users experiencing some form of the condition. The symptoms can continue for up to seven hours after the exposure. This means that even after a person stops looking at a screen for a long time, it can still affect our vision and general well being.

Recently a group of researchers from the University of Maryland made the use of electroencephalography (EEG) to study and find solutions to cybersickness. The participants’ brainwaves were studied using EEG. The test was done through the use of a virtual flight of a spaceport. To give further impact, the flight used sudden drops and gyrating turns to get the most response. Like in real life, the participants became uncomfortable with the simulation. This aided the researchers to record brain waves to study the levels of the symptoms.

However, one can avoid cybersickness by

  1. Reducing the amount of time spent looking at a screen.
  2. Taking breaks in between screen time.
  3. Doing stretching exercises.
  4. Choosing audio or printed materials over video or electronic reading materials.
  5. Writing notes by hand rather than by typing if possible.
  6. Avoid looking at screens while driving.
  7. Turning off pop-ups and flashy displays.
  8. Being in an open space or ventilated room.

If you continue experiencing the symptoms, you need to consult a doctor on how to lessen them.

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