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Summer challenges for vestibular patients

Author Details

Sheelah Woodhouse blog author

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017
woman feeling dizzy

Summertime, and the living is not so easy … if you have a vestibular disorder

Summertime conjures up images of getting outside, traveling, going to social gatherings, having a few drinks on the patio.  This sounds great and relaxing to most people -  but if you have a vestibular disorder, these activities can be a real challenge and can make symptoms worse.

Dizziness symptoms and the great outdoors Those with vestibular problems can’t use the information from their inner ear(s) about balance and orientation as well as they used to.  Therefore, they are typically more dependent on the position information they get from their feet and ankles than the rest of us.  Walking on surfaces that are not hard and flat spells trouble, so walking on the soft grass, sand, or unpaved trails can create unsteadiness and fear of falling.

Balance challenges on a plane or boat How about travelling?  Being on a plane or boat can be very challenging for people with vestibular problems, again because the information they are getting from the muscles and joints in their bodies is no longer the same as what they get when on solid ground.

These forms of travel also create a mismatch in the balance system, because when you look around inside the plane or boat you appear to be stationary, yet your body and your inner ears sense that there is some motion. Usually the inner ear/vestibular system would step in to sort out this conflict, but if that isn’t working properly, people can start to feel quite disoriented and unwell.  Looking out of the plane or boat, rather than at items inside, can be helpful so that your eyes can see that there is some movement taking place, and can then ‘agree’ with your body and inner ears.


man struggling with travelling


Vestibular disorders and visual cues How about a relaxing drive to the lake, or a nice park? Driving in a car can create the same scenario as being in a plane or boat, especially if sitting in the back seat.  Those with vestibular disorders are overly dependent on the information about orientation that they get from vision. When that is the case, people can get quite stirred up by visual stimulation: the sunlight flickering through the trees, the motion of other vehicles around them, all the scenery going by.  And once you get to the lake, even just watching the movement of the water can be quite disorienting and disturbing.

How about a social activity at home, with friends and family? Sounds promising, but at social gatherings where there is the visual stimulation of people milling about, a lot of standing instead of sitting, head-turning as you talk to this person and that, this can be a provoking option as well.  Add in spongy flip-flops or those great strappy shoes with a bit of a heel, and a few drinks, and those with vestibular disorders often find their symptoms flare up.

Education, pacing, strategic choices and appropriate treatment - Despite all this – you don’t need to give up on summer enjoyment!  With education, pacing, strategic choices and appropriate treatment, those with vestibular disorders can reduce and manage their symptoms and enjoy life!  See: http://vestibular.org/living-vestibular-disorder/everyday-challenges#travel for tips.  

Hopefully the scenarios described above can help those without these disorders appreciate the hidden challenges that those with vestibular problems are trying to work around, and offer their understanding and assistance. One of Lifemark's highly-trained vestibular therapists can help. www.lifemark.ca/services-dizziness-and-balance 

Click here to watch a series of videos on the vestibular system, the most common causes of vertigo, dizziness and balance issues, and how to find relief: http://bit.ly/2A0V3k1

Author Details

Sheelah Woodhouse blog author

Sheelah Woodhouse

PT, BScPT, Vestibular Physiotherapist

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