People with vestibular disorders may experience a number of symptoms, including dizziness, hearing loss, tinnitus or fullness in the ear. An overview of some of the common symptoms is provided here; you may not experience all of these symptoms. It is very important to find out the cause of any symptoms you are experiencing. If you have any questions or concerns you should speak with your GP for advice, treatment and referral to a specialist if necessary.
Vertigo (severe dizziness)
Vertigo is a symptom rather than a condition. There are many causes of vertigo and it can be experienced by people of all ages. Vertigo is defined as an illusion of movement and is a specific type of dizziness which causes the person to feel the sensation that they, or their surroundings, are moving even if they are standing completely still. Read more about vertigo...
Some people with a vestibular disorder experience hearing loss. The hearing loss may be mild in some cases or it may fluctuate. Living with hearing loss can affect people in a number of ways. There are many different options available to deal with hearing loss, including counselling, communication tactics and hearing aids. Click here to find out more about managing hearing loss.
Tinnitus comes from the Latin word meaning ‘to ring’. It is the perception of sound when no external sound exists but you hear it. Perception means the way you regard or interpret this sound; people hear a wide variety of noises such as buzzing, humming and whistling. Read more about tinnitus...
Fullness of the ear
Some people with a vestibular condition experience the sensation of ‘fullness’ or aural pressure which can be incredibly uncomfortable. Different terms have been used to describe the sensation, such as a feeling of pressure or wooziness; cotton wool in their ears/head; walking on clouds/rubber or maybe a loss of concentration or focus. The fullness can also fluctuate and may some cause considerable distress for some people. A noticeable change in the sensation of the ‘fullness’ can be an indication that the condition is starting again. For some this sensation may disappear completely however for others it can become chronic with a constant feeling of pressure. In patients with Ménière’s this condition can fluctuate with the acuteness of the condition. Unfortunately there is no specific treatment to alleviate the ’feeling of fullness,’ the sensation generally subsides when the other symptoms diminish.
Sensitivity to noise
Some people have especially sensitive hearing and are unable to tolerate ordinary levels of noise, this can occur in both people who have a hearing loss as well as those who don't. There are different components which can contribute to sensitive hearing such as hyperacusis, phonophobia and misophonia. Read more about sensitivity to sound...
Another possible symptom is headache or pains over the scalp. As the balance is also involved with maintaining the correct position of the head, the muscles of the neck and scalp are constantly being brought into play to achieve this. Some abnormalities of balance will cause this reflex to be triggered at the wrong time, resulting in spasm often in small areas of the head and neck musculature. This can present a quite severe pain which may move about in its location and cause distress and concern to sufferers.
Some people experience eye symptoms that include the inability to focus, rapid eye movement and blurred vision. This can occur because the balance mechanism is linked with the control of the eye movement and stability. Therefore the balance mechanism enables us to keep our eyes fixed on some object while we are walking about moving our head. Any loss of this eye control by the balance mechanism can result in a completely uncontrolled eye movement. In the worst case, the eyes move rapidly from side to side (referred to by doctors as nystagmus) and this produces a sensation of rotation of the environment rather like being spun round rapidly on a swing or roundabout. Blurring of vision, although it may be due to other eye problems, can often be the result of a balance disturbance.
Drop attacks (Tumarkin’s otholic crisis)
Drop attacks, known as Tumarkin’s otolithic crisis, are when a person falls to the ground with no warning. The person remains awake and does not lose consciousness. Drop attacks are sometimes experienced in the later stages of Ménière’s disease. They do not affect everyone and some people will not experience drop attacks. A drop attack feels as if you are being pushed violently and suddenly, causing you to fall. Symptoms are usually gone as quickly as they appear, and you can get up straight away and carry on with whatever you were doing (unless you get a drop attack at the same time as an acute attack of vertigo). During these attacks, the hair cells on your otoliths are suddenly activated, causing your balance to be severely disrupted. Experts do not know how or why this happens.
Sickness and nausea
When experiencing vertigo (severe dizziness) some people feel nausea which can lead to vomiting. There are many anti-emetic drugs which are effective against nausea. Prochloperazine (Stemetil/Buccastem) and cinnarizine (Stugeron) are commonly prescribed. For more information about medication please speak to your health professional or pharmacist. Some people tell us that ginger is a good remedy for sickness, such as eating a ginger biscuit or sipping hot water with a lump of root ginger in it.