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The Telltale Signs of a Vestibular Disorder

Signs of a Vestibular DisorderSymptoms that May Indicate an Inner Ear Problem

Feeling a little unsteady on your feet? Experiencing nausea or a sense that the world is spinning around you? You could have an inner ear problem, also commonly referred to as a “vestibular disorder.” How does that work—why would your inner ear have any effect on your sense of balance? What are the signs that you may have an inner ear disorder? What are the most effective treatment options?

Your Body’s Vestibular System

It may surprise you to learn that your ears are for more than just listening. In fact, your ears are a fairly complex system, comprised of both cartilage and bone. Deep inside your ears, you have small, semicircular canals that have fluid in them. As you move your body or even just your head, the position of the fluid changes. There are tiny hair cells in those canals that constantly send messages to your brain about your orientation to the world. Those hair cells sense the movement of the fluid and send your brain the necessary information to help you keep your balance.

What Are the Common Causes of a Vestibular Disorder?

A vestibular disorder is generally an indication that the hair sensors are sending inaccurate signals to your brain. Some medicines can negatively affect the function of those sensors and an infection can also cause a vestibular problem. Occasionally, you may have a microscopic piece of calcium or other detritus flake off inside your ear, causing mixed signals. It’s not uncommon for vestibular disorders to be a consequence of a traumatic brain injury.

What Are the Symptoms of a Vestibular Disorder?

The most common indications of an inner ear problem are dizziness or physical disorientation, particularly when you turn side to side, move your head or get up from bed or a chair. Typically, with movement, the world around you will start to spin. You may lose your balance or fall. You may also feel sick to your stomach or even experience vomiting.

How Can You Be Sure It’s a Vestibular Disorder?

With any recurring dizziness, you should seek treatment from your primary care physician. You may, however, need to see an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist). Based on the specific symptoms you’re having, the ENT may order a hearing or vision exam, blood tests, an MRI or walk you through certain balance tests.

How Should You Treat a Vestibular Disorder?

Particularly if your vestibular issue is chronic or somewhat permanent, one of the most effective ways to return to maximum health is through physical therapy. A physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Strengthen muscles and improve coordination, so that you have better control of your balance
  • Work with you to minimize your risk of falling
  • Help improve your ability to stabilize your vision