The vestibular system in the inner ear is responsible for many of our perceptions of motion and space. When not functioning properly, nerve signals being sent to the brain are disrupted. This can result in some of the signs and symptoms most common for a vestibular disorder, including dizziness, vertigo, and imbalance.
This can cause a chain reaction for other related side effects, such as feeling light-headed, difficulty concentrating, persistent headaches, sinus pressure, and tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Some patients suffering from a vestibular disorder are more at-risk for fall incidents due to balance problems. People can also feel nausea due to intense symptoms.
Common Vestibular Conditions
The specialists in our vestibular therapy program often treat general dysfunction of the vestibular system, meaning it is not working well enough to the extent that it has started to affect a person's quality of life. This can occur after damage to the inner ear or the central nervous system itself, specifically parts of the brain that process vestibular information.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV as it is often referred, is the most common diagnosis made in Catholic Health's vestibular program. Most people have tiny crystals of calcium that normally reside within our inner ear canals. If these crystals become displaced, small as they are, they can affect our perceptions of balance and motion. Fortunately, this condition is extremely treatable with manual repositioning techniques.
Neuritis can be compared to BPPV by how an abnormality within the inner ear causes uncomfortable symptoms for the patient. Neuritis is an inflammation of the inner ear that is indicated by intense episodes of dizziness and nausea that can last anywhere from several minutes to a few hours. Occasionally, neuritis will also cause hearing loss, and then the condition is known as labyrinthitis. Both neuritis and labyrinthitis are treated with medication to reduce inflammation, and PT exercises for symptom management.
A concussion is a small traumatic brain injury (TBI) resulting from a blunt force or trauma to the head. In some cases, concussion patients may experience symptoms that are normally treated in vestibular therapy, like vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance. A vestibular therapist can conduct a clinical exam for a concussion patient to determine if therapy could potentially manage concussion symptoms.
A vestibular migraine is not the most common diagnosis, but it is often characterized when a patient's episodes of dizziness last remarkably long, from hours to days. It is frequently seen in female patients, or those who have a history of suffering migraine headaches. During an episode, patients are often sensitive to light and sound, and sometimes get an aura that an episode is coming on, just like a regular migraine.
Vestibular and balance therapy is offered as a specialty form of PT at all Catholic Health outpatient clinics. Our vestibular therapists are experts in their field, each having completed comprehensive training to add vestibular care to their services.
Patients are comfortable knowing that vestibular conditions and symptoms can often be treated in a quick, convenient manner, usually with manual techniques. Our therapists often direct patients to reposition their bodies in a specific and strategic way during a therapy session, using approaches such as the Epley maneuver.
Patients who have been diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, often suffer from recurring episodes. We cannot treat these patients during an acute episode in an outpatient therapy setting, but our therapists are skilled in helping them manage Meniere's symptoms and strengthening the vestibular system.
Therapy programs are created on an individualized basis, designed to serve each patient's needs and recurring symptoms. Many patients find that side effects are either reduced or completely alleviated within a few therapy sessions. Our team also emphasizes compensatory techniques that help manage a patient's anxiety when disorientating symptoms occur.