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Can virtual reality cause seizures? This question has been a topic of concern for gamers, explorers, and those interested in learning about the potential risks associated with this immersive technology. As the accessibility of VR increases, it is essential to comprehend its potential impacts on users’ health.
In this blog post, we will delve into the relationship between VR and seizure activity.
What is Virtual Reality?
VR is a kind of magical doorway that brings you to an artificial environment where one can investigate and engage with the space. Recent advances in VR technology have enabled its use across a range of sectors, from gaming and education to healthcare and entertainment.
The primary component of VR systems is the headset or head-mounted display (HMD), which provides users with a stereoscopic view of the digital environment. These devices are equipped with sensors that track head movements and adjust the displayed images accordingly to create a seamless visual experience. In addition to HMDs, other peripherals like controllers or gloves can be used for more natural interactions within the virtual space.
There are two main types of VR experiences: tethered and standalone. Tethered systems require connection to a powerful PC or gaming console for processing power while standalone devices have built-in processors eliminating any need for external hardware connections.
- Tethered: Examples include Oculus Rift S, HTC Vive Pro Eye & PlayStation VR
- Standalone: Examples include Oculus Quest 2 & Pico Neo 3
Can Virtual Reality Cause Seizures?
VR has become highly popular, giving users a chance to be immersed in gaming, learning and exploration. But, can it cause seizures? Though rare, VR can induce seizures in those with photosensitive epilepsy, which affects 3-5% of people with the condition.
Photosensitive epilepsy affects around 3% to 5% of people with epilepsy and can be triggered by flashing lights or rapidly changing images – both of which are common in virtual reality environments. If you have a history of epilepsy or are prone to seizures, it is advisable to speak with your healthcare provider prior to engaging in virtual reality.
Other Factors That Could Contribute to Seizure Risk
Aside from photosensitive epilepsy, prolonged exposure to virtual reality and cybersickness can also heighten the risk of experiencing a seizure. Spending extended periods immersed in virtual reality can lead to sensory overload and increased stress levels, while cybersickness occurs when there’s a disconnect between what your eyes see and what your body feels while using VR devices.
What VR Device Manufacturers Are Doing About It
Some VR device manufacturers have implemented safety measures to mitigate the risk of triggering seizures. For example, they provide warnings about potential seizure risks and allow users to adjust settings like brightness levels or image refresh rates. However, these precautions may not completely eliminate the risk for all users.
It is essential to be aware of one’s individual susceptibility to seizures and potential triggers in VR settings, even though the risk of having a seizure from using virtual reality for most people is fairly low. Before exploring VR, it’s wise to consult with a medical professional and take steps to safeguard your wellbeing.
Virtual reality can cause seizures for a small percentage of people, especially those with photosensitive epilepsy. Prolonged exposure to virtual reality and cybersickness can also increase the risk of experiencing a seizure. VR device manufacturers have implemented safety measures to mitigate the risk, but it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before using VR if you have a history of epilepsy or are prone to seizures.
Symptoms of Seizure Triggered by VR
Different types of seizures triggered by virtual reality can manifest in various ways, depending on the individual. It’s crucial to recognize these symptoms early to prevent further complications or injury. Here are some common signs and symptoms associated with seizures caused by virtual reality:
- Visual disturbances: Flickering lights, patterns, or rapid changes in brightness within a VR environment may cause visual discomfort or trigger photosensitive epilepsy.
- Aura: Some people experience an “aura” before a seizure occurs. This could include strange sensations such as tingling feelings, unusual smells or tastes, or even hallucinations.
- Muscle stiffness/twitching: Involuntary muscle contractions (myoclonic jerks) may occur during a seizure episode.
- Loss of consciousness/fainting: A sudden loss of awareness is one possible symptom that might indicate an ongoing seizure event.
- Tonic-clonic seizures (formerly known as grand mal): This type involves both tonic (stiffening) and clonic (jerking) phases; it typically lasts for about one to three minutes but could last longer if not treated promptly (source). These seizures are often accompanied by confusion upon regaining consciousness.
Stop your virtual reality session immediately if any of the symptoms associated with tonic-clonic seizures are noticed, and seek medical advice for how to proceed safely. Additionally, inform those around you about your condition so they can assist you in case of an emergency.
Recognizing Seizures in Others
If you’re with someone using virtual reality and suspect they may be having a seizure, it’s essential to look for signs. Here are some indicators that someone might be having a seizure:
- Sudden unresponsiveness or inability to communicate
- Involuntary muscle movements, such as twitching or jerking
- Losing balance or falling down without any apparent reason
If you witness these symptoms, follow appropriate first aid procedures for seizures (source) and seek medical assistance if necessary. It’s essential not only to ensure their safety but also provide emotional support during this challenging time.
Virtual reality can cause seizures, and it’s crucial to recognize the symptoms early to prevent complications or injury. Symptoms may include visual disturbances, muscle stiffness/twitching, loss of consciousness/fainting, and tonic-clonic seizures. If you experience any of these symptoms while using virtual reality technology, stop your session immediately and seek medical attention.
Who’s at Risk for Seizures from VR?
VR may be appealing, yet it is not suitable for all individuals. Some people are more likely to have seizures triggered by VR use. Here are the groups of people who should be extra careful:
People with Epilepsy
If you have epilepsy, you’re at the highest risk for seizures from VR. Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, putting those with this condition at increased risk for seizures when using VR. About 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy in their lifetime, so it’s essential to be cautious when using virtual reality devices.
People with photosensitivity or photosensitive epilepsy (PSE) are also at risk. PSE is triggered by exposure to flashing lights or patterns, which can be common in some VR environments. About 5% of all epileptic patients have PSE, so these individuals should take extra precautions before engaging in any activities involving flashing lights or rapidly changing images.
First-time Seizure Sufferers
In rare cases, even people without a history of seizure disorders might experience a seizure as a result of exposure to specific stimuli within VR environments. It’s important to be aware of this possibility and monitor your own reactions when using VR technology for the first time.
Children and Adolescents
Research suggests that children and adolescents may be more susceptible to seizures triggered by VR use. Given their ongoing development, children and adolescents may be more sensitive to visual stimuli and thus require closer supervision when using VR devices. Parents should closely supervise their children’s use of VR devices and limit exposure if any signs of discomfort or distress are observed.
Awareness of potential dangers and implementation of proper safety measures can enable individuals to relish immersive encounters without putting their wellbeing in jeopardy.
Preventing Seizures from VR Use
Virtual reality is an exciting experience, but it’s crucial to take precautions to reduce the risk of seizures for those who may be susceptible. Here are some tips to enjoy your time in virtual worlds while staying safe:
Know Your Limits
If you have a history of epilepsy or other seizure disorders, consult with your doctor before using any VR technology. They will provide guidance on whether it is safe for you to use and what specific precautions you should take.
Take Regular Breaks
Take breaks every 20-30 minutes during your VR sessions to prevent eye strain and fatigue that could trigger a seizure. Remove the headset completely during these breaks and allow yourself time to rest.
Adjust Settings Accordingly
Many VR games offer settings adjustments, such as reducing flickering effects, lowering brightness levels, or turning off certain visual triggers like flashing lights or rapid scene changes that might cause discomfort or increase seizure risks.
Create a Safe Environment
- Maintain distance: Ensure there is enough space around you while playing to reduce the chance of injury from colliding with nearby objects.
- Padded flooring: Consider placing soft padding on the floor where you play in case of falls resulting from loss of balance or seizures.
- Sit down when possible: Opt for seated gameplay whenever feasible to reduce physical exertion that may contribute to triggering a seizure.
Monitor Your Body’s Signals
Pay close attention to any odd sensations or indications while using virtual reality, including dizziness, confusion, queasiness, or blurred vision. If you experience any of these warning signs, stop your session immediately and take a break until the symptoms subside.
Play with Others Present
It’s beneficial to have someone knowledgeable about your medical history close by in the event of an emergency. They can monitor your condition during gameplay and assist if needed.
Educate Yourself on Seizure First Aid
In the event of a seizure occurring while using VR technology, it’s essential to be aware of proper first aid techniques. The Epilepsy Foundation offers comprehensive guidelines on seizure first aid, which include staying calm, keeping track of time elapsed since the onset of the seizure and knowing when to call for emergency assistance.
By taking these precautions, virtual reality can remain an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone involved.
To prevent seizures while using virtual reality, it’s important to know your limits and take regular breaks. Adjusting settings, creating a safe environment, monitoring your body’s signals, playing with others present, and educating yourself on seizure first aid are also essential precautions for an enjoyable and safe experience in VR.
FAQs in Relation to Can Virtual Reality Cause Seizures?
Is Virtual Reality Harmful for Epilepsy?
Virtual reality can trigger seizures in some individuals with epilepsy due to the immersive environment and rapid visual stimuli, but not all VR experiences are problematic, so it’s essential to know your triggers and consult a medical professional before using VR.
Can VR Cause Seizures in Children?
Yes, VR has the potential to cause seizures in children with photosensitive epilepsy or an undiagnosed seizure disorder, so parents should monitor their child’s use of VR technology and watch for any symptoms of seizure activity.
Can Gaming Trigger Seizures?
Gaming can potentially provoke seizures in individuals with photosensitive epilepsy due to flashing lights, rapidly changing images, or certain patterns on screen, so it’s crucial to take breaks and follow recommended guidelines.
Can 3D Movies Provoke Seizures?
Similar to gaming and VR experiences, 3D movies could also trigger seizures in those with photosensitive epilepsy because of fast-moving visuals or intense lighting effects, so it’s best to consult your healthcare provider beforehand if you have concerns.
For more information on photosensitivity and seizures, visit Epilepsy Foundation.
!! For more information about the different VR headsets on the market, check out this product specification list.
Is virtual reality safe for everyone? While virtual reality can be an amazing experience, it’s important to consider the potential risks involved, especially for those with medical conditions such as epilepsy.
If you have a history of seizures or other medical conditions, it’s best to consult with your doctor before using VR devices.
However, if you do decide to use VR, be sure to take frequent breaks and avoid flashing lights or intense visual stimuli to reduce the risk of seizures.
Remember, prevention is key when it comes to staying safe while using VR.
Espen is the Director of PursuitMeta and has written extensively about Virtual Reality and VR Headsets for years. He is a consumer product expert and has personally tested VR Headsets for the last decade.