Virtual Reality distracts kids from pain

Researchers believe Virtual Reality (VR) headsets may help reduce children’s anxiety and their experience of pain when they undergo injections in an emergency department (ED).

JCU’s Professor Cate Nagle was one of a team of scientists who examined the emerging technology. They analysed four studies on the use of VR on patients 4 – 17 years old who were admitted to an ED for minor procedures.

“It was a small number of studies, but the results were very encouraging. They showed VR to be a safe and effective means of managing procedural anxiety (an excessive fear of medical procedures) and provided a more effective strategy than standard care,” said Professor Nagle.

She said VR’s potential in healthcare is rapidly emerging, with the technology shown to be effective in burn management, dental procedures and mental health issues such as anxiety, phobias and drug addiction.

“In terms of pain, VR may work by impeding the attentional capacity of a patient to focus on incoming signals from pain receptors as the patient’s focus shifts to interact with the virtual environment.

“It may be that this process can act to close the nerve ‘gates’ in the spinal cord, thereby reducing the perception of pain.

“MRI studies have demonstrated that VR can reduce pain comparable to a moderate dose of hydromorphone – an opoid-based painkiller,” said Professor Nagle.

She said the evidence underpinning VR use in Emergency Departments is promising and will likely be strengthened by the results from trials in progress.

“Further research in a range of ED interventions with patients across diverse age groups and backgrounds is needed. But it seems that VR has the potential to be a valuable, effective and safe non-pharmacological alternative to current methods,” said Professor Nagle.

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