Virtual reality (VR) may be the wave of the future for some people, but for others it may only feel like a wave of nausea.
VR gaming systems create an immersive simulation that provides the user with an out-of-body experience. VR games can be loads of fun. Unfortunately, some people who try VR get symptoms of motion sickness like:
- nausea and vomiting
- cold sweats
There’s no actual movement generated during a VR game. Even so, VR causes motion sickness for the same reason moving vehicles do.
Luckily, the same strategies that prevent and alleviate motion sickness in the real world can also be used to combat it in the virtual one. Read on to learn what causes VR motion sickness, and what you can do to prevent and treat it.
When you’re playing a VR game, your eyes register the movements being simulated around you. These can be anything from comets whizzing by in virtual space to riding on a galloping unicorn. Your inner ears also sense that virtual movement is happening all around you.
But despite what’s being generated in your VR headset, the muscles and joints of your body sense that you’re sitting still, and not in motion.
Your eyes, inner ears, and body send these mixed messages to your brain simultaneously. Your brain becomes confused and disoriented, causing motion sickness to occur.
VR game designers strive to create a phenomenon known as presence. Presence refers to the physical and mental sensations of “being there” instead of where you are, while playing a game.
It’s presence that makes well-designed VR experiences powerful and realistic. But it’s also what makes VR motion sickness feel the same as motion sickness generated by actual movement.
The only difference between VR motion sickness and other types is that there’s no actual motion occurring during a VR game.
If you start to feel sick while playing a VR game, it may make sense to remove your headset and stop. Continuing the game while sitting or standing still will only prolong and worsen symptoms.
While not proven, some gamers say their symptoms subside if they get up and move around. This may help by syncing their motions to the action of the game, alleviating mixed signals to the brain.
VR motion sickness can last for hours. Some preventive at-home treatments can also be used to stop it once it starts:
- Drowsy-formula antihistamines: First-generation antihistamines that cross the blood-brain barrier can be used to treat motion sickness. These antihistamines have anticholinergic properties. Anticholinergic medications reduce symptoms like vomiting and nausea. Medications to try include Benadryl and Dramamine. Second-generation antihistamines don’t have this effect.
- Fresh air: It’s not fully understood why breathing in fresh, cool air alleviates motion sickness, but people often report feeling better once they do. If you’re inside, go outside and breathe some cool air. If you’re indoors, generate a breeze with a cooling fan.
- Aromatherapy: Essential oils, like lavender and ginger, may help reduce nausea and dizziness. Try using a room diffuser or place a few drops on your wrists and gently breath in the scent.
- Ginger: Ginger can help reduce nausea and may also have a calming effect. Try taking ginger supplements, chewing ginger candy, or drinking ginger tea. You can also peel and suck on fresh ginger root.
While not scientifically proven to work, there are products designed to stop VR motion sickness before it starts. They include:
- VR treadmills: VR treadmills are actually a type of shoe that lets you simulate walking while you’re actually standing still during a game.
- Cybershoes: These work similarly to VR treadmills, except you wear them while sitting.
- Low-latency VR games: Latency refers to the amount of time it takes for in-app motion to register in the brain. The lower the latency, the less delay there is between what’s happening and your brain’s perception of it.
Strategies and treatments for preventing motion sickness may also be effective at preventing VR motion sickness. They include:
- Scopolamine patch: Scopolamine is a prescription anticholinergic drug that’s administered via a patch worn behind the ear. It’s used to alleviate nausea and vomiting caused by surgical procedures. It’s also sometimes prescribed for people to use before boat trips. A patch can be worn for up to 3 days.
- Have an empty stomach: Avoid eating a heavy meal before playing. This may reduce nausea and vomiting.
- Try medication: Take Dramamine or Benadryl several hours prior to playing.
- Use a wrist band: Wear an anti-nausea wrist band that sits on acupressure point Nei Guan (P6).
Some people are more susceptible to motion sickness than others. Some people never get car sick and can ride roller coasters with ease, while others get ill and throw up during the same situations. This is also true of VR motion sickness.
Novice gamers may be more susceptible to VR motion sickness than those who play regularly. If you’re new to VR games, try starting slowly and ramping up the amount of time you play. This may help reduce motion sickness.
VR motion sickness typically resolves on its own within a few hours.
If your discomfort worsens or doesn’t abate, talk with a medical professional. You should also see a health professional for VR motion sickness if you vomit for several hours. Vomiting extensively or long-term can cause dehydration and low blood pressure.
Your doctor can also prescribe medications that’ll help eliminate VR motion sickness before it starts. This can be helpful if you play often or competitively.
VR games simulate situations that contain lots of motion. Since the body is still while playing, this can cause motion sickness to occur in the same way that moving vehicles do.
Women and children may be more vulnerable to VR motion sickness than men are. There are products designed to reduce VR motion sickness, like low-latency games. Traditional motion sickness remedies like Dramamine may also help.