Everybody knows too much screen-time is bad for your family’s health. But could it actually be making your kids sick?
Experts say yes - “cybersickness” is a real thing. Learn the symptoms, and what you can do to keep your family grounded.
If you’ve ever been seasick, carsick or felt ill on an amusement park ride, you know the feeling all too well. The queasiness. The disorientation. The headspins.
It happens when your senses - what you see, feel and hear - send conflicting signals to your brain. In a nutshell, your eyes are telling you one thing but your body is telling you another.
Scientists call the effect “visual vestibular conflict.” For a simple but common example, think about reading in a car as a passenger. Your eyes are focused on a stationary object. But the rest of your body perceives movement.
“As a result, this creates a type of confusion where your eyes sense one thing and your inner ear and body detect something else,” explains occupational therapy professor Christina Finn.
Now, think about a video game or a virtual reality experience involving fast-moving imagery and the illusion of nonstop action. It’s exactly the same as reading in a car - only in reverse. In the screen-time version, your body perceives that you are sitting still - but your eyes and therefore your brain experiences extreme movement.
Result: cybersickness, with symptoms exactly the same as those of motion sickness.
Who is most susceptible?
Of course, not everybody will experience cybersickness. But kids (and adults) who become queasy on rides at the show, or during long car or plane trips are especially vulnerable. So is anyone with a history of migraines or concussion. And younger children are especially susceptible.
Experts caution that fast-paced videogames aren’t the only triggers. Cybersickness can strike during extended periods of scrolling, when you use multiple screens simultaneously - or even when you attend a virtual meeting in which another person is controlling the screen.
Symptoms of cybersickness mimic those of motion sickness - with nausea, dizziness and headache topping the list. Eye-strain is an additional marker, as prolonged screen-time causes dryness, irritation and blurred vision.
Other symptoms, according to the medically reviewed online journal Healthline, can include drowsiness, flushing and sweating.
Top tips for prevention
When in the grip of a bout of cybersickness, switch off screens immediately and take long, deep belly breaths to reduce nausea. In severe cases, over-the-counter motion sickness medication may bring relief.
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