What is Vestibular Hypofunction
Hypofunction refers to any weakness in the vestibular system. The vestibular system is a balance system and works in combination with other balance inputs from your feet and eyes. The vestibular system also contains a reflex from your ear to your eye called your vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR). The role of this reflex is to keep your vision stable when you move your head. Vestibular hypofunction is most often unilateral, referring to only one ear being affected, but can be bilateral which is much more debilitating. Symptoms are characterized by dizziness, vertigo, instability and balance problems. History of recent viral infection, upper respiratory infection or ear infection is very common. It may also be the result of head trauma, temporal bone fracture, acoustic neuroma, antibiotic use (gentimiacin) or unknown etiologies.
In the beginning, you may experience constant symptoms and require a few days of bed rest. But over time, symptoms may only be aggravated by head movement, visually stimulating environments/activities, etc. This is because of impaired gaze stabilization (VOR). Walking in the dark and on uneven surfaces may also be difficult and unsafe. This is because you are unable to relay on your vestibular system for balance when other systems are compromised (vision and feet). It is important to take caution in these situations. Always turn on lights, avoid over stimulating tasks and surfaces you cannot safely negotiate.
Treatment for Vestibular Hypofunction…
Inner ear health is dependent on movement. Just like you would use a dumbbell to strengthen your bicep muscle, you use head and eye movement to strengthen your vestibular system.
Of course, in the beginning of treatment you may be very motion sensitive. It is important to do prescribed exercises as tolerated and slowly increase the time, speed and amount of exercise. More is not necessarily better!
Exercise goals are to promote inner ear adaptation and to challenge the balance component of the vestibular system.
Exercise and its progressions will be tailored to your individual symptoms and needs.