Balance of the body is an integral part of our body functions for a comfortable daily routine. Whenever there is a derangement of the equilibrium of our body, it is known as Vestibular Hypofunction.
What is Vestibular Hypofunction?
The equilibrium of the body is maintained by mainly four major inputs – the signals from the inner ear, the eyes, the joints, and the central nervous system. The balancing part of the inner ear is also called the vestibular labyrinth, which is the main organ that maintains the balance of our body. The labyrinth sends signals to the brain and along with the other three input systems, helps to attain a sense of balance and equilibrium. An imbalance in any of the four systems leads to a sense of disequilibrium and needs to be diagnosed and treated.
Symptoms of Vestibular Hypofunction
The spectrum of symptoms may range from giddiness, lightheadedness, fainting, swaying, imbalance while walking, head-spinning while getting up from the bed, ringing sounds in ears, hearing loss, and rotation of self or surroundings. This is often accompanied by a sensation of nausea or vomiting, commonly referred to as Vertigo.
Causes of Vestibular Hypofunction
The different causes of vestibular hypofunction include viral or bacterial infection of the inner ear. It may also result from some pressure effects inside the ear due to fluid build-up in the inner ear and presents with the characteristic symptoms of dizziness, imbalance, and often accompanied by ringing sounds in the ears and sensation of ear blockage or hearing loss. However, the person is fully conscious and doesn’t have symptoms like blurring of vision, double vision, headache, fainting, and blackouts which are more characteristic of involvement of the central nervous system. Certain drugs like Streptomycin, Amikacin, Seizure medications, Sedatives, etc., can also cause similar symptoms of dizziness.
Activities that challenge your balance
Sometimes, extreme activities that challenge your balance like prolonged mountain travel, certain head-spinning rides, and sudden strenuous exercise can also challenge your balance organs and precipitate vestibular hypofunction.
Vestibular hypofunction can be temporary and usually recovers fully with early diagnosis and treatment. In some situations, it can be a recurring event and requires care and caution for the long term.
Diagnosis of Vestibular hypofunction
If you are suffering from any of the above symptoms, it is important to meet an ENT Surgeon and get yourself examined. You should properly narrate the complete chronology of the events leading to the episode of vertigo which is a prerequisite for deciphering its cause. After a detailed history including medications, the doctor would perform a detailed examination of the ear, nose, and throat, and relevant tests for balance and hearing are performed in the clinic as and when indicated. This helps to understand the cause of the problem and initiate proper treatment.
The dizziness which occurs with changes in the position of the head or body is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). This is one of the most common causes and presentations of Vestibular Hypofunction. Specific investigations like Electrocochleography are indicated for confirmation of certain inner ear disorders like Meniere’s disease, in which there is fluid accumulation in the inner ear. Last but not the least, radiologic studies like High-Resolution CT scans and MRIs may be needed in certain situations.
Treatment of Vestibular Hypofunction
Treatment of Vestibular Hypofunction depends on the cause. Often, the immediate phase is managed by medications, bed rest, and allaying the anxiety of the person suffering from this disorder. Some forms of vestibulopathy like Benign and Positional Vertigo respond through exercises. In the long term, rehabilitation exercises are often suggested to train the balance organs to become more efficient in maintaining our balance by performing daily vestibular rehabilitation exercises for a few weeks. Avoiding sudden jerky movements and maintaining certain positional precautions for a few days in the initial phase also help in the recovery from this problem.
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