May 15-21, 2021 is designated as Steps-2-Balance week to raise awareness of vestibular disorders and the Vestibular Disorders Association (VeDA). Vestibular disorders happen when parts of the brain or inner ear that control balance or eye movements are not working properly. This can be a short-term problem lasting days or weeks or some people experience life-changing effects over months and years.
These can all be symptoms of a Vestibular Disorder:
- Nausea or Motion Sickness
- Feeling Lightheaded or Off-Balance
- Brain Fog
- Anxiety or Panic
Vestibular disorders can be more common in older adults but can affect people of all ages including young children. Dizziness is not a normal part of aging or something you have to live with.
VeDA has many resources including information about different diagnoses, how to get treatment and how to live well with a vestibular disorder. Physical therapists, including some of our staff here at Gifford, can help with exercises or other treatments. Most patients can make a full recovery and return to their normal activities.
Here are some common Vestibular Disorders:
Benign Paroxysmal Positioning Vertigo (BPPV)– Caused by tiny rocks (otoconia) that get into the wrong place in your inner ear, someone with BPPV gets sudden feelings of vertigo/spinning and nausea. Most people experience symptoms by bending over, rolling over or lying down in bed. It is common to feel better by sitting upright or avoiding the affected side. It can be easily treated with movements that help get the rocks out of the problem area. It can get better within a week or two with treatment.
Labyrinthitis or Neuritis– Both are caused by viruses like the common cold or SARS Cov2 that affect the inner ear. They can cause symptoms like vertigo, nausea and being off-balance. Labyrinthitis can also cause hearing loss. Symptoms improve over time and there are exercises to help speed up recovery that you can learn in physical therapy.
Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)– Both affect how the brain processes the information you receive from the inner ear, eyes and body to maintain balance. Symptoms can include dizziness, headache, blurry vision or brain fog. It can be temporary or could last for years.
Migraine Associated Vertigo or Vestibular Migraines– This can cause many of the symptoms already listed above but are usually accompanied by a headache. According to the World Health Organization, headache disorders are among the most common disorders of the nervous system.
What to do if you have these symptoms:
If your symptoms are mild and you can move around safely, start with a visit or call your Primary Care Provider. They can prescribe medicines to help reduce symptoms and send a referral to Physical Therapy so you can get started on your recovery. Sometimes symptoms are more severe and it is not safe to walk or move around.
If you’ve never had these symptoms before and they are severe, call 9-1-1 or go to the Emergency Department. They may do tests like a CAT scan or MRI to check your brain to rule out more serious problems. Some patients spend a short time in the hospital if they are not able to move around safely or they are having severe symptoms.
The role Physical Therapy plays in recovery:
Dizziness and balance issues are common causes of falls in any age group and can lead to serious injuries. An acute vertigo episode can make it almost impossible to get out of bed. Many people who experience these symptoms have stopped doing activities they enjoy for fun or otherwise, sometimes for years.
A Physical Therapist who has training in vestibular rehab can often help figure out the root cause of these symptoms by asking questions and doing some tests in the office. If you have an inner ear issue like BPPV, you may be able to have your symptoms quickly resolve within a visit or two with simple movements.
If you have another type of vestibular disorder, you will leave your first PT visit with exercises that will help you get started on retraining your brain to help you feel less dizzy or improve balance. Often the exercises will make you dizzy, but it is important to stick with them. The dizziness is just like muscle soreness when you’re working on strengthening your arms or legs. We will have you come back for several visits to help you make progress with your recovery.
Sometimes people experiencing these symptoms will see other specialists in areas like Neurology or Otolaryngology (ENT). This can be helpful if you are dealing with headaches or other issues like sinusitis, which can occur along with or cause vestibular disorders.
Neurology services are available on Gifford’s main campus in Randolph and Berlin Specialty Care. Gifford Health Care offers Rehabilitation Services throughout our community locations including our Kingwood Health Center in Randolph, the Sharon Health Center, Twin River Health Center and Berlin Specialty Care.
You don’t have to live with or adjust to symptoms like vertigo or dizziness. If you have questions about how to get started with treatment for yourself or a family member, please contact one of our Rehab Services locations above.