Living with a Vestibular Disorder

Struggling with the daily symptoms of a vestibular disorder can be disheartening. But there is hope. You can learn coping strategies that reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life. Many people describe this as adapting to their “new normal.” Our tips and tools come from vestibular patients, who have learned the hard way that small changes in your lifestyle can make a big difference in your physical, mental and emotional wellness.

LIFE REBALANCED

Living with a vestibular disorder affects a person's life in many ways. Many things you used to be able to do easily are a struggle, or impossible. Going to the mall, grocery shopping, attending a play, visiting with family - these every day activities are like mountains you have to climb. And because your symptoms are invisible, your friends, family and coworkers don't understand, and may even question whether your symptoms are real.

The vestibular system is central to a person’s core functioning. A damaged or diseased vestibular system, therefore, affects not only how you feel, but how you are able to perform day-to-day activities. It's easy to become overwhelmed and confused. Here are some tips for tackling common situations you may find yourself in, which can trigger your symptoms.

Tips to help you cope with everyday challenges

Travel Strategies

Travel conditions that may be problematic for a person with a vestibular disorder include those that involve exposure to rapid altitude or pressure changes, certain motion patterns, or disturbing lighting. Travel decisions that accommodate a person’s disorder will depend on the diagnosis, the method of transportation (e.g., train, boat, airplane, automobile), and the conditions and planned activities at the destination. VeDA receives many questions such as these: “Will travel increase symptoms?” “Should I avoid travel?” “What is the best form of travel?” “What can I do to minimize discomfort while traveling?”

Motion Sickness

Motion sickness is the most common medical problem associated with travel. Dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness all relate to the sense of balance and equilibrium. You might also suffer from dizziness, vertigo and/or nausea due to an inner ear dysfunction. Suppose you suffer inner ear damage on only one side from a head injury or an infection. The damaged inner ear does not send the same signals as the healthy ear. This gives conflicting signals to the brain about the sensation of rotation, and you could suffer a sense of spinning or vertigo, as well as nausea.

Footwear

It makes sense, right? The right shoes can make you more stable and help improve balance, especially in older people who struggle with mobility issues. Proper footwear can give you the confidence to move and be active again.

Home Safety

Vestibular patients benefit from environments that allow them to use their vision and somatosensation/proprioception to compensate for their vestibular weakness. So, keeping your environment safe means creating an environment where you can stay grounded, and see what’s going on, using all your senses for better equilibrium. This article presents a "3-zone home safety assessment" you can do.

Tips for Dining Out

Crowded and busy social settings such as restaurants may be very difficult to navigate if you have a chronic vestibular disorder. By making some adaptations, you may still be able to meet friends and eat in relative comfort.

Tips for Attending Events

A person with vestibular dysfunction is easily fatigued when sorting out vision and balance signals in expansive areas, even those that are quiet and calm. This effort becomes daunting in noisy and busy environments such as in large “box” stores, at crowded sporting events, in theaters, or even while navigating city sidewalks with other pedestrians. Such conditions make it difficult for a person to rely on visual clues about balance and movement because everything is moving, lighting isn't ideal, and stable anchors such as walls are far away. A few simple can help you be more prepared when you cannot avoid crowded spaces.

Stress Management

Stress can have adverse effects on many health conditions, and vestibular disorders are no exception. Managing your stress can help you control your symptoms.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation can help reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can help you better cope with your vestibular symptoms. Many vestibular patients report that just a few minutes practicing simple relaxation techniques is the key to putting them in the right frame of mind so that they are better able to cope with life's daily challenges.

Healthy Sleep Habits

Being well-rested is extremely important. Sleep deprivation can lead to serious health problems. Think of how you feel when you haven't gotten enough sleep. Now think of how you feel when your vestibular symptoms are acting up. Add those together and you're a mess. Establishing healthy sleep habits is one simple thing you can do to build a wellness routine.

Managing Fatigue

According to psychologist, Dr. Rachel Bilgrei, cognitive (and physical) energy is finite for everyone. If you are using a great deal of this energy to maintain equilibrium and stay steady (something that is normally done automatically), it is unlikely that you will have very much left over for other activities. As a result, fatigue sets in.  Activities that you used to be able to perform with ease and very little effort now require much more effort, leaving you drained of energy. This article provides you with tips on how to increase your activity level and manage fatigue.

Computer Monitors and Digital Televisions

Visual sensitivity from vestibular disorders can be exaggerated when you use a computer monitor or watch television. Certain types of displays - and certain ways people use them - can be more problematic than others. Resolution, screen size and brightness are just a few factors to consider. In our increasingly digital world, its important to manage your screen use to minimize your symptoms.

Dentist's Guide to the Dizzy Patient

Dental work can often be uncomfortable for a person with a vestibular disorder because of the intense lighting, extended amount of time requiring an open mouth, and adjusting to a reclined chair position. Sometimes people with vestibular disorders perceive that a dentist chair has been reclined beyond horizontal, even if it has not. Also, some people find it uncomfortable to be in the chair as it is lowered and raised. After the procedure, some people with balance disorders find that any residual numbness from the local anesthesia is a bit disorienting. Download this article and bring it to your dentist to educate him/her about your condition and help them make adjustments to accommodate your needs.

Hormones

There is increasing evidence on how sex hormones affect the inner ear. Many women report that hormonal fluctuations can trigger their vestibular symptoms. More research needs to be done to conclusively show a connection between hormonal changes and vestibular dysfunction, and until then there are few treatment options available.

Coping Tips for Students

Discuss your situation with your professors and a school guidance counselor so they are aware of your health issues. Some schools have help for students with visual or hearing challenges. Reduce your class load if you are able, until your symptoms are improved. One student bought noise-cancelling headphones so her concentration while studying improved. Others go to a "quiet study area" such as a library to reduce distractions. You may need to experiment with different sitting positions as well, such as changing the height of your desk, getting a more supportive desk chair, and/or changing the computer monitor so there is less flickering. There are full-spectrum, non-flicker desk lights that can help improve concentration. Don't give up hope - you may need to change your school schedule, but many have continued with their education and successfully graduated!

Lighting

  • Fluorescent lights may cause visual difficulty; sit away from and with your back to the light.
  • It can be helpful to wear a hat and/or sunglasses in places with overhead lights.
  • Be aware that many restaurants control lights with a central rheostat, which can be visually disorienting when the lights are adjusted.
  • Extinguish flickering candles on the table or ask for the wick to be trimmed.