Digital Dizziness: You Smart Phone May Be Making You Feel Sick

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You're scrolling along on your cell phone, minding your own business, when it hits you. Something is not right.

Atlanta Medical Center ear nose and throat specialist Dr. Lisa Perry-Gilkes says they have a name for that woozy, nauseous, headachy feeling:  cybersickness.

"I'm glad you're bringing this up because people will have these symptoms and have no idea why they're having them,” says Dr. Perry-Gilkes. “Do I have a viral something going on?  Have I been exposed to something? Is my blood pressure too high?"

The real problem, she says, is a form of digital dizziness.  You're so hyper-focused on what's happening onscreen, it's throwing off your equilibrium.

"When we're in motion, I'm getting input from my visual field as well as my muscles are moving, and everything like that,” explains Perry-Gilkes. “With visual, or cyber sickness, the only thing you're getting is your visual stimulus. So you're seeing things flashing by."

In other words, you feel like you’re moving, but you’re not. And that's throwing your body off.

Cybersickness is common with people who use virtual reality, and pilots training in flight simulators.  Dr. Perry-Gilkes, the Clerkship Director of Surgery Ross University School of Medicine at Atlanta Medical Center, estimates about 10 percent of technology users may suffer from cyber sickness.  It’s more common in women and in migraine sufferers, who often experience visual disturbances.

She likens cyber sickness to the feeling you get after watching a fast-paced 3D  movie.

“Like, have you ever been in the Imax movie and you feel like you're falling? But you're truly not?" Perry- Gilkes asks.

So, how can you do to make that queasy feeling go away?  Start by putting your gadget down.

"Simply just stopping the stimuli (can help),” Perry-Gilkes says. “ Looking away.  Turning it off, for a few minutes."

Medication or ginger  to ease nausea can also help.  And, she says, so can gently pushing against an acupressure point located about an inch above your wrist.   Just push and hold.

"You you can feel the tendons, if you push right there.” says Perry-Gilkes, “For a few minutes. That should calm that feeling down."