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What is balance and vestibular dysfunction?

You know that fall Nan took last month? It may not be just because she’s getting a little older and frailer. There is a chance that it’s due to a problem with her balance and vestibular system.

Same with that dizziness you may feel when getting off a lift, or when bending over and getting up quickly. There could be an issue with your vestibular system.

It is estimated that over 30% of the population over the age of 40 have experienced some form of issue caused by vestibular dysfunction.

The vestibular system includes that part of the ear and brain that processes information from your senses and controls balance and eye movement. If you have a dysfunction in that system you can suffer from a range of issues including:

  • dizziness
  • a spinning sensation (vertigo)
  • lightheadedness
  • unsteadiness
  • loss of balance
  • nausea and motion sickness
  • problems reading
  • difficulty seeing

Read more about what balance and vestibular dysfunction is.

What causes balance and vestibular dysfunction?

The causes of symptoms related to balance and vestibular dysfunction are many and varied. Symptoms could be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, Meniere’s disease, natural aging and even migraines.

Sometimes the symptoms sufferers experience could be caused by a medication they are taking or a head injury could have caused some damage to the vestibular system.

Balance and vestibular issues have also been known to be caused by tumours, autoimmune disease and even skin growths.

In some cases, it can be impossible to determine the cause of the symptoms but to be safe rule out as many causes as possible.

Read more about what causes balance and vestibular dysfunctions and disorders.

How is it diagnosed?

There are several audiology and other assessments used to gather information about different areas of your balance system to pinpoint the origin of your balance problems.

Most these assessments examine vestibular function through the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR). The VOR is the change in eye movement with the change in vestibular stimulation. This occurs as neural pathways lead from the right ears vestibular system to the muscles on the left side of both eyes and pathways from the left vestibular system lead to the rectus muscles on the right side of the eyes.

If something goes wrong with either vestibular system or the signals being sent it results in abnormal movements of the eye. If you focus on a single point and move your head from left to right you should be able to keep your eyes focused on that point even though your head has moved.

Read more about the testing and diagnosis of balance and vestibular dysfunctions and disorders.

Are there any treatments for balance and vestibular dysfunction?

First and foremost, any underlying medical issue should be addressed to aid in the treatment of vestibular disorders.

Then it’s a matter of selecting the management and treatment techniques appropriate for the diagnosis of the specific vestibular issues. These treatments and techniques could include a variety of options including:

  • Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT)
  • Canalith repositioning manoeuvres (eg the Epley manoeuvre)
  • general exercise
  • diet changes
  • counselling
  • medication
  • surgery

Read more about the treatment of balance and vestibular dysfunctions and disorders.

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