Patient Perspective

Living with a Vestibular Disorder


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?”

Avoiding Injury From Falls

One of the leading health concerns for people over the age of 60 is falling, which is often related to balance problems. Each year millions of adults fall, and one in five of those falls leads to serious injury. Dizziness can happen at any age, but if it results in falling it can be a serious health concern, particularly in older adults. Studies show that you can take action to reduce dizziness and your risk of falling.

"Supermarket Syndrome"

For many people with a vestibular disorder, a trip to the grocery store can turn into a battle with dizziness. The lights, rows of shelves, and crowds of people can trigger symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, and light-headedness. If this is something you struggle with, this article provides some suggestions for treatment and coping.

Controlling Your Symptoms

Being aware of what your triggers are and tracking your exercises and progress are important steps in controlling your dizziness and nausea. Keeping a diary of your exercises alongside your symptoms is a good way to monitor your progress and adjust your routine. Exercises using controlled breathing, relaxation, thought control, and stress management are all good methods of controlling your symptoms.

Vestibular Disorder Triggers

There are a number of triggers that can impact the severity of symptoms experienced by someone with a vestibular disorder. Tracking your symptoms and keeping potential triggers in mind can be helpful in minimizing the severity of your symptoms.

How to Navigate a Relapse

Vestibular symptoms may wax and wane. Even after you feel like you've found your "new normal," an illness or event may cause a recurrence and make you feel like you're back to square one. However, you got this far, and you have resources at your disposal to recover again. Check out these tips and tricks from a fellow vestibular patient.

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.

Coping with Tinnitus

Tinnitus, the medical term for the perception of non-existent noise, often described as ringing in the ear, is a common symptom among vestibular patients and a difficult one to address. Even moderate levels of tinnitus can affect a person’s ability to work and socialize.2 Anxiety and stress levels go through the roof and it becomes harder to fall asleep, which in turn makes the anxiety worse. It’s a vicious cycle, and a hard one to break. This article provides some coping strategies that can help you manage your tinnitus.

Dealing with Acute Vertigo Episodes

Vertigo can be extremely hard to deal with. The sudden onset of world-turning dizziness and the accompanying nausea, imbalance and loss of function can feel paralyzing and cause great concern. Fortunately, most attacks are not due to serious medical conditions.

Here are some tips to help you deal with vertigo, when it happens:

  • Seek medical help
  • Get to a safe space
  • Address nausea
  • Use relaxation techniques
  • Avoid or reduce triggers
  • Have a plan

Dietary Considerations

A few simple changes to your diet can help some vestibular patient manage their symptoms

  • Tips: Discover how to identify triggers such as sodium, MSG, sulfites and fermented foods
  • Food diary: It is often helpful to keep track of what you are eating and drinking, and note how you felt afterwards
  • Recipes: A restricted diet doesn't have to be boring. Learn how to make your favorites without triggering your symptoms


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.

Environmental Influences on Vestibular Disorders

Have you ever wondered if vestibular disorders and their symptoms are influenced by the environment? Recent work has demonstrated that the symptoms of common vestibular disorders may be linked with certain environmental factors.

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.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation is a mind-body practice with a wide variety of techniques from both ancient and modern times. The practice of mindfulness has you simply pay attention to the present moment by placing your focus in a particular way... without judgment, with curiosity, and with a gentle awareness. Meditation and mindfulness can help vestibular patients by calming stress and anxiety that can make symptoms worse and training the brain to use information from the body for orientation instead of using vision.

Managing Fatigue

While fatigue is a common and distressing symptom that affects many people with vestibular disorders, you can learn to manage your fatigue and improve your quality of life. This article helps explain what factors could be contributing to your fatigue and provides an 8 step guide to managing it.

Managing Nausea, Vomiting & Poor Appetite

Nausea, vomiting and poor appetite are common complaints among individuals with vestibular disorders. These symptoms can significantly affect one’s ability to work, participate in social activities, drive, and perform household tasks. Often, they can become interrelated, creating a vicious cycle. There are many strategies that have been shown to help reduce or alleviate nausea, vomiting and anorexia.

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.

Health & Wellness Coaches

A comprehensive recovery program includes a medical exam and testing, rehabilitation therapy, and lifestyle accommodations. Health, wellness, and nutrition coaches can be part of your multi-disciplinary healthcare team.

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.


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!


  • 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.

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