Explore Vestibular Disorders & Symptoms
By: Dr. Abe Kopolovich, DPT, MBA
Your Balance System
Good balance is often taken for granted. Most people don’t find it difficult to walk across a gravel driveway, transition from walking on a sidewalk to grass, or get out of bed in the middle of the night without stumbling. However, with impaired balance such activities can be extremely fatiguing and sometimes dangerous. To understand what’s going on when you’re balance system isn’t working, it’s helpful to know how your balance system works.
Causes of Dizziness
Dizziness, vertigo and disequilibrium are common symptoms that may result from a problem in your vestibular system in your inner ear or from other causes, such as stress, dehydration, heart problems, and vision issues.
Vestibular symptoms may be difficult to describe, which complicates the diagnostic process. If you are unsure if you have a vestibular problem, reading this explanation of symptoms may help you.
About Vestibular Disorders
The vestibular system includes the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance and eye movements. If disease or injury damages these processing areas, disorders of dizziness or balance can result. Vestibular disorders can also result from, or be worsened by, genetic or environmental conditions, or occur for unknown reasons.
LESS COMMON VESTIBULAR DISORDERS
- Perilymph fistula
- Superior Semicircular Canal Dehiscence (SSCD)
- Acoustic neuroma
- Bilateral vestibular hypofunction
- Neurotoxic vestibulopathy
- Enlarged vestibular aqueduct
- Mal de Débarquement
- Autoimmune inner ear disease
- Secondary endolymphatic hydrops
- Persistent Postural Perceptual Dizziness (PPPD)
WHAT CAN I DO?
How is a vestibular disorder diagnosed?
The inner ear’s vestibular organs and the associated nerves and brain centers form a complex system that serve many functions and can be affected by a number of outside systems, such as vision and proprioception (i.e. your muscles and joints). A thorough evaluation of your vestibular function may involve:
- Medical history
- Physical examination
- Tests of inner ear function
- Hearing tests
- Balance tests
- Vision tests
Trouble Getting a Diagnosis?
Many people with dizziness, imbalance, or vertigo have trouble obtaining a diagnosis. Many different types of disorders can cause dizziness. The signs of vestibular disorders are often hard to recognize. Patients have a difficult time describing their symptoms. Vestibular disorders may stem from the inner ear or the brain, and can therefore require multiple specialists to evaluate. Becoming educated about vestibular disorders can help you become a better advocate for your own healthcare.
Getting an accurate diagnosis is often dependent on being prepared for your doctor visit. VeDA offers tools to help you gather the information your will need to make the most of your limited time with your doctor, including questions that will help you understand your condition and what you can do about it.
Keeping track of your symptoms, activities, triggers, and medications can help you and your doctor identify the cause of your problem, which may lead to a diagnosis.
How are vestibular disorders treated?
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for vestibular dysfunction. Treatments vary depending on diagnosis, as well as individual factors. Treatments may be aimed at correcting the problem, minimizing symptoms, and/or promoting overall wellness. Some treatments include:
- Vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT)
- Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)
Types of Vestibular Disorders
“Vestibular disorder” is an umbrella term used to encompass many different conditions that affect the inner ear and those parts of the central nervous system involved in maintaining balance. There are more than twenty-five known vestibular disorders. Each is unique, but many share common diagnostic traits, which can make it difficult for healthcare professionals to easily differentiate them.
The most commonly diagnosed vestibular disorders include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, Ménière’s disease, and secondary endolymphatic hydrops. Vestibular disorders also include superior semicircular canal dehiscence, acoustic neuroma, perilymph fistula, ototoxicity, enlarged vestibular aqueduct, migraine-associated vertigo, and Mal de Sébarquement. Other problems related to vestibular dysfunction include complications from aging, autoimmune disorders, and allergies.