Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction

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Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction is a vestibular condition where there is damage to the inner ear or the nerve causing a partial or complete loss of function of the vestibular system. This can happen in one (unilateral) or both (bilateral) ears. Our inner ear consists of a system of fluid-filled tubes and sacs called the labyrinth.

The inner ear serves two main functions which are to help you hear and keep your balance. The cochlea, a snail-shaped tube is responsible for hearing. The Vestibular organs consist of the 3 semicircular canals and the sac-shaped utricle and saccule and they are responsible for your balance and detection of head movements. Signals are transmitted from the labyrinth to the brain via the vestibulocochlear nerve from both inner ears. If one side is affected, it sends inaccurate signals to the brain resulting in dizziness, vertigo and imbalance.

inner ear diagram
Credit: UTHealth Houston

Why does Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction happen?

There are a variety of factors that can lead to this condition and the exact reason can be hard to determine. Here are some of the common contributing factors:

  • Bacterial/Viral Infection (Vestibular neuronitis/ Labyrinthitis)
  • Age-related
  • Trauma (concussion/ mild traumatic brain injury)
  • Ototoxicity
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Polyneuropathy
  • Congenital
  • Tumors
  • Other vestibular disorders (Migraine, Meniere’s Disease)

What are the common symptoms related to Unilateral Vestibular Hypofunction?

  • Vertigo (room spinning feeling)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced balance with head turns
  • Motion sensitivity
  • Gaze instability
  • Nystagmus
  • Oscillopsia
  • Trouble walking

What can happen if left untreated?

Symptoms of acute unilateral vestibular hypofunction such as vestibular neuronitis typically improve spontaneously within the first few days. However, you may experience lingering symptoms of sensitivity to movement or mild imbalance when turning your head quickly or dizziness when walking in crowded areas.

Physiotherapy treatment for Vestibular Disorders

Vestibular physiotherapy is an exercise and movement-based approach to help safely and effectively relieve symptoms of unilateral vestibular hypofunction. Our physiotherapists will do an individualized assessment to examine your vestibular system.
These tests include visual tests, balance and functional walking.

Some of the exercises that you may be asked to perform are:

  • Gaze stabilization exercises: Improves coordinations of head eye movements
  • Balance exercises: This targets to strengthen the inner ear balance system
  • Gait retraining: This helps to improve your dynamic gait in different environmental situations
  • Education: Empower you to take control of symptoms and management of daily activities

If you think you may have a vestibular disorder or are experiencing the above symptoms, do contact us to book an appointment so that our team of physiotherapists are able to help assess and treat the symptoms so that you can get back to your daily activities again.