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Vestibular Disorder Triggers

Article Summary

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.

Vestibular disorder symptoms of vertigo–dizziness, headache, fatigue, tinnitus (ringing of the ears), and imbalance—can be impacted by various triggers such as:

  1. Diet
  2. Environmental factors
  3. Lifestyle choices
  4. Habits
  5. Travel
  6. And more…

Because triggers differ for each individual and diagnosis, logging and journaling symptoms by intensity, type, diet, exercise, activity level, sleep habits, etc. may help identify patterns or factors that may be playing a role in causing or exacerbating your symptoms.



Diet plays a large role in overall health, especially for some vestibular patients. A diet high in sugar, caffeine, and/or alcohol can impair balance and increase dizziness symptoms. Not drinking enough water may also worsen symptoms. Individuals who suffer from vestibular migraine often noticeable food triggers, which can include monosodium glutamate (MSG), aged cheeses, red wine, beer, and chocolate. Meniere’s Disease can be affected by excessive sodium (salt) intake, which affects fluid levels in the inner ear. Keeping a food journal may identify possible food influences on triggers.


Environmental factors may also trigger vestibular symptoms. For many vestibular patients, busy and bright environments like malls and grocery stores can cause dizziness. Others find that lighting, odors, noises, or patterns (on carpets, for example) can be problematic. Riding in vehicles can often provoke symptoms of motion sickness, which can be exacerbated by traveling on windy roads, repetitive starting/stopping of the vehicle, riding on congested highways, or excessive elevation changes. Air travel, with its changes in barometric pressure, can be especially problematic. Some individuals notice symptoms associated with changes in weather, or when allergens, like pollen, are present.

Head Trauma/Positioning

Head trauma can trigger vertigo with positional head changes. Some individuals note an association between their dizziness and neck pain/stiffness. Repetitive or extreme motions of the head (e.g. tipping your head back to change a light bulb) can also provoke symptoms.


Reading text, whether digitally or on paper, may trigger symptoms, especially for those with migraine or light sensitivity.


Dizziness can often be triggered or made worse when a person is ill, such as from an upper respiratory infection.


Some medications may cause dizziness, tinnitus, or malaise/imbalance, so discussing these with your physician and pharmacist is beneficial.


Hormonal changes may also be relevant, so this is a consideration for women undergoing menopause and those who suffer from migraines.

Lifestyle Factors

While some of the triggers may be out of an individual’s control, thankfully others are not. Lifestyle factors, such as sleep and exercise can affect overall dizziness frequency and intensity.


Sufficient sleep is fundamental for daily functioning, and not getting enough quality sleep can affect energy levels and overall dizziness.


Individuals who do not exercise regularly may also report increased symptoms.


Dizziness can cause anxiety and stress, and increased anxiety and stress levels can further trigger dizziness symptoms, causing a vicious cycle.


*This list is not all-inclusive. You may be triggered by other issues, so make sure to talk to your doctor, physical therapist, or other health care professional for help in identifying your individual triggers and deciding on the best way to manage them.

For more information, read the Vestibular Triggers infographic.

Author: Danielle Beatty, DPT