Pathways to the brain
What is the Vestibular system?
Our vestibular system is a complex set of receptors in our inner ears connected to pathways in the brain that work together to detect head motion and positional changes in space.
If we want to read a street sign while walking by, we must be able to maintain a clear vision of the words we are reading, even though there are movements of our head during our stride. What about focusing on a tennis ball when playing tennis? How are our eyes able to maintain a clear image despite movement? The answer is the vestibular system.
When our head is rotated in one direction, one function of the vestibular system is to trigger our eyes to move in the equal and opposite direction to help us maintain a clear imagine of whatever it is we would like to stay fixed on. It is not a conscious sense; it works on its own automatically helping us perform basic day to day tasks.
We are able to observe if our vestibular systems are working efficiently by recording movements of the eyes. This is the basis to the vestibular triage testing now being offered at Victorian Hearing.
When patients experience dizziness, it could be that there is a deficit in the vestibular system. The triage test includes 6 subtests which are used to help determine the cause of the vertigo, dizziness or imbalance which if identified can often be treated.
How long will the test take?
We recommend a comprehensive hearing assessment prior to the vestibular triage testing. A hearing assessment and vestibular testing will take 90 mins in total. The vestibular triage testing alone will take 45 minutes.
Who’s suitable for vestibular triage testing?
- Patients who have been experiencing dizziness, vertigo, unsteadiness, brain fog etc with or without any noticeable triggers
- Patients referred by specialists or going to see specialist for dizziness/vertigo problems
- Old enough to follow simple instructions (5 years +)
- Good mobility to be able to lay down and turn head/necks
Symptoms of dizziness or Vertigo
The inner ear constantly receives and sends information about our balance system and our hearing system to the brain.
Dizziness can be a range of sensations including feeling light-headed, faint, woozy, unsteady or off-balance. Vertigo is one type of dizziness that feels as though you or your surroundings are spinning, in the absence of any movement.
Dizziness can be very debilitating and has a significant affect of one’s quality of life, as day to day activities such as walking, driving, hanging the washing on the line and even getting in and out of bed becomes more difficult or for some, impossible.
Symptoms that may accompany dizziness include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Being pulled/swaying to one direction
- Increased risk of falling
- Ringing or other sounds in the ears (tinnitus)
- Difficulty hearing/ blocked ears ( fullness)
- Staggering gait and loss of coordination (ataxia)
- Unusual eye movements, such as flitting of the eyes (nystagmus)
- Finding it difficult to see clearly when moving, for example, when reading a sign while walking or driving
- Brain fog
How does dizziness affect our hearing?
The 8th cranial nerve is also known as the vestibularcochlear nerve. This nerve travels down from the brain, and once in the inner ear it branches out into parts; the vestibular component and the cochlear component. The vestibular branch and the cochlear branch constantly receive and send information about our balance system and our hearing system to the brain respectively. Therefore disruptions to this nerve or it’s nerve branches, can result in hearing loss, dizziness or both symptoms.
For example a skull fracture through the inner ear, means the whole vestbiularcochlear nerve can be damaged, resulting in symptoms of dizziness as well as sudden hearing loss and tinnitus- a false sense of sound in the ears. However the condition of Vestibular neuritis, refers to inflammation of the vestibular branch of the vestibularcochlear nerve. The symptoms of are vertigo, nausea, loss of equilibrium in the absence of hearing loss.
In some cases of sudden hearing loss, hearing may not recover. If this occurs, preservation of remaining hearing in both ears is important. Ways to prevent hearing deterioration include limiting the amount of noise exposure, and using hearing protection when in noisy environments. If hearing does not recover either spontaneously or with medical treatment, a hearing aid may be an option for the rehabilitation of the hearing loss. Tinnitus can also continue to be present, regardless of whether hearing recovers or not. Tinnitus management, including relaxation and distraction techniques, can be of benefit to help reduce the perception of tinnitus.