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Treating vertigo with virtual reality

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is using innovative virtual reality technology in a bid to treat patients with vertigo. The Royal Hallamshire Hospital now has a virtual reality computer gaming suite in its building. In the future, the NHS trust hopes it can be used in the patient’s home over time.

It is believed that virtual reality technology can help to reduce the recovery time for patients with vertigo. The rehabilitative therapy enables patients to have control over their symptoms by using a digital landscape and virtual reality headsets. Typically, vertigo has a treatment goal of six months with rehabilitative therapy. The new virtual reality system cuts this time to just six to eight weeks.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a condition when there is a discord between the different somatosensory, visual and vestibular systems. This makes it harder to control the movement and sense of the eye. As a result, patients are often unable to cope with visually challenging environments. It can make it hard for patients to have job roles in the police or fire service where you have to adapt to visual challenges.

Some of the traditional therapy options include patients taking part in gaze adaption therapy for up to 20 minutes at a time. Some activities include asking patients to throw a ball and track the movement using their fingers or look at visually stimulating patterns such as wallpaper.

The new digital system enables patients to immerse themselves in a 3D setting. This way they can experience the same physical and psychological reactions that they would in real life.

Professor Jaydip Ray from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital explains; “Our specialist regional neurotology clinic has already pioneered the use of augmented reality video game consoles with balance boards to help patients, so using hi-end virtual reality gaming systems for rehabilitative therapy for patients with visual vertigo is a natural progression for us. Although a small number of patients have been unable to tolerate the system, for those who can we have seen significant improvements in recovery times.”

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