Doctors in Colorado have helped some patients to get through painful procedures avoiding general anaesthetics by using virtual reality.
Several patients, using VR as a distraction, have been able to undergo mild to moderately painful treatments, not under anaesthetic, which reduces recovery time and the need for medication.
Joe Albietz, medical director at Children’s Hospital Colorado said,
“The human brain has limited bandwidth for what it can pay attention to. The more it is engaged in a VR experience, the less it can perceive the pain signals coming through. If it’s not paying attention to those pain signals, they might as well not exist.”
The technology is being used so that only a local anaesthetic is required when patients face an invasive procedure, for example an endoscopy, lumbar puncture or while dressing limbs. In some cases, no additional anaesthetic is needed at all when the headset is worn.
In another study at Imperial College London, researchers have found that burning pain could be relieved if patients using a VR headset were immersed in scenes of oceans, icescapes and icebergs. The study suggests that besides distracting the brain, VR may also activate the body’s built-in pain-fighting mechanisms, regulating the spread of increased sensitivity to pain.