Signs Your Computer Screen is Making You Sick

- I am a neurologist who is fellowship trained in concussion and headache management. 

Headache is an extremely common symptom and collectively headache disorders are among the most common of the nervous system disorders, with a prevalence of 48.9% in the general population. There are more than 150 types of headache. 

They fall into two main categories: primary and secondary headaches.. There are more than 150 types of headaches. 

Recently with the physical separation that the pandemic that forced us to adapt to- more of us working from home and engaging with electronic means to work and play. 

We are now seeing primary headaches with vestibular-Ocular (inner ear -eye)dysfunction termed Cybersickness.

Cybersickness affects people who are over exposed to screens and virtual reality devices. 

It refers to a cluster of symptoms that occur in the absence of physical motion, similar to motion sickness. 

These symptoms fall into three categories: nausea, oculomotor issues and general disorientation. Cybersickness is a type of motion sickness that shows up in people who use screens and virtual reality devices, causing nausea, sweating, dizziness, headache, and eye strain. 

It is important to realize if you have been symptomatic due to the extended use of screens with motion heavy components like VR glasses, video games or even fast moving movies.

The vestibular system- (the inner ear apparatus) works with motion of the head in space and in turn generates reflexes that are crucial for our daily activities, such as stabilizing the visual axis (gaze) and maintaining head and body posture. 

If you are looking at a moving VR object and the brain thinks the body is at rest, the mismatched signals cause the brain to experience motion sickness. In the case that screens are involved, this is called cybersickness. 

When your body knows it's sitting still but your eyes see characters moving through a virtual world or the rapid movement of flashing lights, your senses get confused.—Shae Datta, MD, co-director, NYU Langone's Concussion Center, and director of cognitive neurology at NYU Langone Hospital—Long Island.

1. Excessive Strain on Your Eyes

Cybersickness can exacerbate headaches if they were at one time mild because of the excessive strain on your eyes as well as the blue light. People with milder headaches may see a worsening of their headache intensity. 

The first step is to limit your screen time and take frequent breaks. If you have used mild over the counter NSAID's and your headaches are still an issue, it is time to consult a doctor.

2. Doubel Vision

Lasting symptoms of double vision or eye strain or pain should prompt a visit to a eye doctor to make sure your eyes are healthy. Using re-wetting drops for dry eyes can help reduce strain. 

Cold compresses for tired eyes and taking breaks every half hour, and blue light blocking glasses can help. 

You should make sure to visit a doctor for an updated prescription. If these interventions fail to resolved eye symptoms, see a doctor.

3. Heart Rate

Another study found evidence that cybersickness causes a change in heart rate, cutaneous thermoregulatory vascular tone, and prolongation of reaction time. 

There can be found a change in brain blood flow during the experience of cybersickness. 

Especially in younger people with developing brains, ADHD or learning disorders- If you find your reaction time with other tasks such as driving or sports has decreased, it is time to see a doctor.

4. Vertigo or Nausea

Once you experience vertigo and or nausea with cybersickness, taking frequent breaks from the environment is recommended. Dizziness and a spinning sensation (vertigo) are symptoms of a vestibular balance disorder. 

If frequently breaks and modifications to screen time do not work, you need to see a doctor to evaluate if you need to go through vestibular re-training or therapy to rebalance your eyes and inner ear. 

You may need medications to help your symptoms so that you are able to engage in therapy without triggering your symptoms. 

This would caution people who have existing motion sickness or eye strain or migraine issues to be cautious about long term exposure to any type of prolonged screen time that especially challenges parts of the the vestibulo-ocular system.

5. You're Missing Melatonin

The human body's biological process uses a hormone called melatonin to regulate your sleep cycle known as the circadian rhythm. The 24-hour cycle of light and darkness is produced from earth's rotation.

When your eyes receive blue light, melatonin production is suppressed, causing your body to wake up and become more alert. 

The invention of smartphones and VR with it's light-up displays emit blue light. The blue light created by digital displays suppresses the body's production of melatonin. 

In the absence of light, melatonin production resumes and makes you feel tired.

It will be important to have a regular sleep schedule and stop your screen time 2 hours prior to bedtime. 

Take melatonin supplements with dinner with try to establish your normal circadian rhythms. If these lifestyle modifications do not work, see a sleep specialist.

6. VR Sets

Scientists once felt that women were more susceptible to cybersickness due to more women complaining about it. Yet, a 2020 study found that it wasn't a function of gender at all but rather due to poorly fitting virtual reality headsets. 

The headsets were originally designed for men, not fitting women properly. This caused the VR screen—which a virtual reality environment turns into the user's whole world—to be misaligned, worsening the feeling of disorientation.

6. The Final Word from Doctor

There are over the counter medications that treat motion sickness and nausea include Benadryl, Dramamine, meclizine and scopolamine. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends scopolamine patch, a prescription medication. It eases nausea and vomiting without drowsiness.

Talk to your doctor to determine which is best for you. These medicines work best when taken before motion exposure.

writter by: Dr. Shae Datta


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