Over 90 million people (fourty two percent of the American population) experience feelings of vertigo, dizziness, and loss of balance during their lifetime; for many of them, this experience becomes a chronic condition. Dizziness is the number one reason that people over the age of seventy five visit doctors, and falls due to a loss of balance are the leading cause of death and serious injury in people over the age of 65.

Most (seventy five percent) of these cases are caused by peripheral vestibular disorders in the inner ear; examples of these conditions include labyrinthitis, perilymphatic fistula, Ménière’s disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and vestibular neuritis, acoustic neuroma. These disorders cause abnormalities in the delicate areas of the inner ear that disrupt our ability to maintain and control our sense of balance. Although most cases of chronic dizziness and vertigo occur in adults, the condition can affect kids suffering from it even more, because they are so active that a lack of balance can prevent them from engaging in sports or other activities.

These conditions can be treated with surgery and drugs, but there is another treatment methodology that uses physical therapy to stimulate and retrain the vestibular system and provide relief – Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT). VRT exercises are prescribed individually for each patient’s specific symptoms and often involve the use of eye exercises, head movements and gait training designed to improve patients’ gaze and stability. The goals of VRT are to improve balance, minimize falls, decrease the subjective experience of dizziness, improve patients’ stability when moving or walking, improve coordination, and reduce the anxiety they often feel as a result of their condition.

For many people suffering from bilateral or unilateral vestibular loss and the conditions described above, Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy has often been shown to be effective in reducing their symptoms. The effectiveness of Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy in patients suffering from these conditions who did not respond to earlier treatment methodologies has been proven in several clinical trials. On the other hand, VRT is not as likely to be beneficial if the underlying cause of vertigo or dizziness is due to reactions to medications, migraine headaches, anxiety or depression, transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or low blood pressure.

Because the specific exercises in a regimen of VRT vary according to the patient’s symptoms and conditions, it is not easy to give an overview of them. But are all taught by trained VRT therapists, and often involve movements of the head, eyes, and body that enable your brain and body to retrain themselves and regain control over their equilibrium and balance, compensating more effectively for the incorrect information sent to them from their inner ear. If you have experienced long-term symptoms of dizziness or vertigo, consult a balance specialist and ask for more information. You can also get more information from the pamphlets and training materials provided by the Vestibular Disorders Association.

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