Visual Vertigo Could be Treated with the Help of Virtual Reality

A team of Cardiff University psychologists claim that diagnosis and treatment of visual vertigo can be possible by the use of virtual reality.

People suffering from the condition often cite places with repetitive visual patterns, such as supermarkets, as the trigger and suffer from dizziness and nausea.

To help with diagnosis and rehabilitation, a team of psychologists is working to develop virtual environments.

The approach has “real potential”, believes the scientists.

“We don’t know very much about what causes visual vertigo at the moment,” said Dr Georgina Powell, of the School of Psychology. “There also are not many effective rehabilitation therapies available, so the aim of our project is to try and understand those two things.”

“It can mean that a patient can’t leave their house because they feel so sick and nauseous every time they walk around in their visual environment,” she said adding that vertigo can be extremely debilitating. “They can’t work, they just can’t function.”

The variation between what sparks their symptoms was one of the most striking observations they had made about sufferers, the team said.

“All the patients are very different and some environments might trigger symptoms for some patients whilst other environments might trigger symptoms for others,” Dr Powell said.

“So by using virtual reality (VR) we can have vast flexibility over the different types of environments that we can show to patients and we can find out what their individual triggers might be and then tailor specific rehabilitation therapies.”

For the fact that large shops, with their cluttered shelves and repetitive aisles, can act as a catalyst to vertigo attacks, visual vertigo is often referred to as “supermarket syndrome”.

“Other environments include walking by the side of a river, where you have motion one side of you but not on the other,” Dr Powell said.

“Generally they can only handle so much of the virtual reality images at one time – we have a bucket ready,” She added.

“But we give them lots of breaks and lots of water and monitor how they are feeling.”

Experts and scientists claim that rather than a symptom, vertigo is more a symptom. A loss of balance and nausea, a sense of self-motion and dizziness can be endured by suffers. In cases of people with severe vertigo, the symptoms may last for several days or even longer and may be constant.

It has been observed that after suffering damage or illness related to their vestibular system such an ear infection, often, people with visual vertigo develop vertigo. The apparatus of the inner ear involved in balance and space orientation is described as  the vestibular system.

It can be “very difficult” to rehabilitate, said Prof Petroc Sumner, who is overseeing the project.

“There are new patients every month and also repeat patients. So, because it can’t easily be fixed quickly, then the patients have to be seen multiple times – that takes up a lot of NHS time.”

He said the concept had “real potential”, especially as virtual reality becomes cheaper.

(Adapted from BBC)

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