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Pioneering Cardiff University study uses virtual reality to treat vertigo

By Toby Holloway

Virtual reality could be used to diagnose and treat visual vertigo, a Cardiff University study has found.

A team of psychologists at Cardiff University discovered that in developing virtual environments that mimic the conditions that trigger episodes of vertigo, they can begin to understand the underlying causes of it.

The causes of vertigo are relatively unknown to scientists, but the Cardiff University team believe that their pioneering methods could be used in the diagnosis of the vertigo, as well as in the treatment of the associated symptoms.

Vertigo can often be caused by misbalances of the inner ear, and can result in symptoms such as nausea, loss of balance and dizziness. Episodes of vertigo can last for a few seconds, or much longer, depending on the severity of the case.

Vertigo is often misdescribed as the fear of heights (acrophobia) and is more to do with the victim’s surrounding environment. Regularly referred to as ‘Supermarket Syndrome’, vertigo attacks can be triggered by the repetitive ways in which supermarkets are laid out.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Georgina Powell of Cardiff University’s School of Psychology said: “All the patients are very different and some environments might trigger symptoms for some patients whilst other environments might trigger symptoms for others.”

“Other environments include walking by the side of a river, where you have motion one side of you but not on the other.

“[Having vertigo] can mean that a patient can’t leave their house because they feel so sick and nauseous every time they walk around in their visual environment.

“They can’t work, they just can’t function.”

Speaking of the work being carried out by her and her colleagues, she said: “We don’t know very much about what causes visual vertigo at the moment.

“There also are not many effective rehabilitation therapies available, so the aim of our project is to try and understand those two things.

“So by using virtual reality (VR) we can have vast flexibility over the different types of environments that we can show to patients and we can find out what their individual triggers might be and then tailor specific rehabilitation therapies.”

Scientists at Cardiff university believe the approach has “real potential” in helping those suffering from vertigo.

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