Digital World, Dizzy World!

We started last week’s post discussing screen time, or time spent looking at a TV or computer. But, consider all the other screens you deal without throughout the day. The most obvious is your smart phone, but we also deal with 3D movies, IMAX movies, and back up cameras in your cars,


Think about the additional complexity of these situations. When sitting in a chair watching a movie, the stimulation is strictly visual, so the stable inner ear and tactile feedback will keep you oriented. On a TV or normal size movie screen, there is sufficient stable peripheral visual feedback for the vestibular system to recognize that the screen is moving, but you are still. IMAX theaters consume all of your visual field, and are known to provoke uneasiness and nausea in normal subjects. Migrainuers can have problems and can feel dizzy with normal size screens if they sit up too close to the screen, and IMAX theaters are often too stimulating for them to enjoy the movie. And 3D movies? Fuggedaboutit!


Now with smart phones, people are watching action on a screen while at the same time walking around, or riding in a car, train, bus, etc. (and the screens keep getting bigger which may be good for viewing, but bad for orientation. A smaller screen allows more peripheral vision of the stable environment).

The Devil is in the Details (and the Dashboard)

Rear view mirrors in cars have long been a source of difficulty for vestibular patients. I recall one particular patient that described a situation where, just as she looked into the mirror, a car came driving by. The unexpected visual motion caused her to totally lose orientation for several minutes before she could continue on her way. Now, we have the back up camera. The back up camera in your car is a device designed by the devil of vestibular function. You are sitting down, facing forward, your car is moving backward, and your visual scene is what you would see out of the back of your head.


What’s next?

Photo courtesy of



About Alan Desmond

Dr. Alan Desmond is the director of the Balance Disorders Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center, and holds an adjunct assistant professor faculty position at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. In 2015, he received the Presidents Award from the American Academy of Audiology.