Cybersickness causes nausea and disorientation, as well as eye strain, headaches, and, potentially, many other symptoms. As the name implies, this condition usually develops from using digital devices. Cybersickness is similar to issues like virtual reality or motion sickness. Many experts even view them as different presentations of the same issue.
Symptoms of cybersickness typically fall into three categories: nausea, disorientation, and oculomotor issues.
Disorientation describes sensations like vertigo or dizziness. Oculomotor issues include fatigue, headaches, and eyestrain, which all result from overworking the nerve responsible for eye movement. Some symptoms, like a loss of concentration or blurry vision, overlap the three categories.
While experts are not yet aware of the main causes of cybersickness, they do understand some of the mechanics. Many health professionals believe that cybersickness is the result of mismatches in sensory input. For example, the visual system tells the brain it sees movement while the vestibular system of the inner ear and the proprioceptive system of the body tell the brain the body is steady.
Cybersickness can develop during any interaction with a digital screen, though phones and computer monitors are most commonly responsible. A typical trigger for cybersickness symptoms is quickly scrolling through a webpage, especially if that page has a static background.
As working from home increases in recent years, more people are experiencing cybersickness in digital meetings where someone else is controlling the screen. Virtual and augmented reality can also trigger cybersickness.
Some experts view the nausea and oculomotor symptoms that occur when using virtual or augmented reality as distinct from cybersickness, while others simply feel they are two sides of the same coin.
Virtual reality typically involves wearing goggles or headsets that completely block the view of the outside world, limiting the user's vision to small screens that simulate a new environment. Many people experience high levels of nausea that increase with the duration of use. Augmented reality involves projecting a simulated environment onto the real world, often utilizing a phone’s camera. It tends to cause more oculomotor issues and strain.
Researchers have identified a few technical features that seem more likely to prompt feelings of cybersickness. Motion parallax is the perception that objects closer to the viewer seem to move faster than objects in the distance. When devices attempt to use motion parallax at shorter distances than humans are accustomed to, feelings of cybersickness can develop.
Symptoms of cybersickness also appear at higher field-of-views, which are common in many video games. Viewing angle and mismatched motion also appear to play a role.
Certain people are far more susceptible to cybersickness than average, with some being up to 10,000 times more at risk. Studies indicate that women are more likely to experience cybersickness than men, but also tend to recover more quickly. People who do not play video games regularly and those who already have balance issues typically have more severe symptoms.
Cybersickness and motion sickness are incredibly similar. Both conditions feature nausea, disorientation, and oculomotor issues as their primary symptoms.
Beyond this, they are somewhat like the inverse of one another. Motion sickness might occur inside a ship where the body feels motion while the eyes see no movement, while cybersickness develops when the eyes see motion but the body feels steady.
Depending on their severity, cybersickness symptoms can be debilitating. Experts recommend slowing scroll speed and writing notes by hand when symptoms appear. Some people find that deep breaths can help combat nausea. Immediately taking a break from digital screens is also key.
If a person’s cybersickness is particularly intense, they may require over-the-counter motion sickness medication.
People who are prone to cybersickness can take a few steps to prevent the condition entirely. Blue light glasses filter out some of the light waves that may contribute to oculomotor issues. Using larger font sizes and zooming in while using smaller screens can also be effective.
Additionally, avoid heavy meals, take frequent breaks, and limit the use of multiple monitors.
Typically, cybersickness does not necessitate a visit to the doctor. However, if symptoms persist for over 24 hours after avoiding digital screens, there could be an underlying issue. People who regularly have cybersickness but must use digital screens for work or school may need long-term motion sickness medication.
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