Do you avoid going to the grocery store? Do the bright lights, busy patterns on the floor, vast number of things to look at, bending down or turning your head to look at items make you feel exhausted or just plain horrible? I can tell you that you are not going crazy and definitely are not the only person experiencing this. A vestibular disorder may be causing these symptoms, and it can be treated!

That feeling of dizziness or disorientation while shopping might mean that you’re experiencing a condition known as visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome. This is a common condition that affects many people and can be triggered by the complex and visually stimulating environment of a supermarket. In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome.

What Is The Vestibular System?

There are 3 major systems that make us feel balanced. They are; what you see with your eyes, what you feel underneath your feet (proprioceptors), and your vestibular system (inner ear). When one of these systems is not working how it should be, your brain gets conflicting messages and has to rely more heavily on a particular system, which can cause symptoms like this one. With “supermarket syndrome” your brain relies too heavily on your visual system.

A great example of getting conflicting messages from your balance centres is watching an action movie with a lot happening on screen. The visual system says there is movement, but the vestibular and proprioceptive system says there is not because you are sitting still on your couch. Normally, your brain can easily sift through this information and you know you are not actually moving, but with a mismatch in information (due to a vestibular disorder) this could result in feeling motion sickness.

Causes Of Supermarket Syndrome

Visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome is caused by the complex and visually stimulating environment of a supermarket. This environment can overload the brain with too much information, making it difficult to process sensory input properly. In addition, the bright lights, crowded aisles, and overwhelming number of choices can also contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate symptoms.

Symptoms Of Supermarket Syndrome

The symptoms of visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome can vary from person to person, but common symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, nausea, and difficulty concentrating. Some people may also experience a feeling of being overwhelmed or overstimulated by the environment, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety. These symptoms can be temporary and typically resolve once the individual leaves the supermarket. Further symptoms of visually induced dizziness include:

  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Light-headedness
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Salivation (mouth watering)
  • Fatigue

Supermarket Syndrome Treatment

Treatment of visually induced dizziness requires a vestibular examination to determine the underlying condition. Once this is done, home exercises to retrain your balance centres is helpful. Specific types of vestibular rehabilitation exercises are prescribed to help your brain relearn how to sift through the information it is receiving from your eyes, feet, and vestibular system (inner ear).

That being said, while you’re in the midst of a Supermarket Syndrome attack, you can try the following:

  • Take deep breaths in and out (5 seconds in and out)
  • Wear supportive footwear to make sure you will not fall
  • Drink water to help with nausea
  • Hold onto something (shopping cart) for support

You can also try more gentle approaches like shopping during less busy times or avoiding particularly crowded aisles. Another strategy is to use mindfulness techniques to help manage stress and anxiety, such as deep breathing exercises or visualization techniques.

It is important you do not avoid the activities you normally do or the things that make you feel dizzy. Getting used to these things is an important step in recovery and retraining your brain. You also do not want to push too hard because this can make your symptoms worse. Physical therapy and vestibular rehabilitation can be very effective in managing symptoms by improving balance and reducing dizziness.

Supermarket Syndrome Exercises

Once you’ve been assessed by your physiotherapist, they’ll likely prescribe some exercises to support your vestibular rehabilitation. These could include:

  • Habituation, a type of exercises that exposes you to the symptom inducing activity in a slow, gradual, and controlled manner
  • Balance exercises

Supermarket Syndrome Prevention

Preventing visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome involves taking steps to reduce the triggers that can lead to symptoms. One effective strategy is to plan your shopping trip in advance, making a list of the items you need and prioritizing the most important items. This can help you to focus your attention and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the environment. In addition, taking regular breaks and allowing yourself time to rest and recover can also help to prevent symptoms from occurring.

If you are experiencing visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional who can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options. At Altea Physiotherapy + Wellness, our experienced physiotherapists can provide a comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

In conclusion, visually induced dizziness or supermarket syndrome is a common condition that can be triggered by the complex and visually stimulating environment of a supermarket. While it can be a frustrating and uncomfortable experience, there are effective treatment options available to help manage symptoms and prevent them from occurring in the future. By working with a healthcare professional and taking steps to reduce triggers and manage stress, you can overcome this condition and enjoy a more comfortable and stress-free shopping experience.

Vestibular rehabilitation takes time and effort from both an experienced clinician and the patient. Contact our clinic today to book an appointment with Carly.