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Common Vestibular Symptoms Defined

By Cheryl Wylie, MSc (PT)

Have you ever felt confused by your vestibular symptoms, feeling unsure of what to call them or how to even try to describe them to someone?

Vestibular disorders come with many symptoms, and being able to identify what you are feeling and put a name to it provides a lot of clarity for not only yourself, but also when communicating what you are feeling to a healthcare provider.

Below are some of the most common symptoms experienced (in alphabetical order) and a description of each. Keep this list hand or even print it off to take with you to appointments. 

  • Alice in Wonderland Syndrome: perceptual distortions that can affect one’s perception of their own body and the surrounding environment. Objects can appear a different size or shape than they actually are, a sense that time is passing at an abnormal speed, your own body part feeling larger or smaller than normal, and difficulty judging distances.

  • Anxiety: associated with fears around performing certain tasks or activities and can present as quickening breath, elevated heart rate, dizziness, irritability, trouble sleeping, intrusive thoughts, fidgeting, muscle tension, and self-consciousness.

  • Depersonalization: a sense of detachment, disconnection or unreality concerning one’s self or identity. It may feel as though you are observing yourself from outside your own body, feeling detached from your thoughts and feelings, body parts feel bigger/smaller than they are, and feeling spaced out

  • Derealization: a feeling as though your surroundings are distorted, dreamlike or altered. It may feel like the ground is shifting, that time is passing by too quickly or slowly and can cause difficulty with concentration.

  • Disequilibrium, Imbalance and Unsteadiness: Difficulty maintaining proper balance, leading to a feeling of being unsteady on your feet. People may feel a pull to one side, have difficulty walking and lack coordination.

  • Dizziness: A general term that may include feelings of lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or a false sense of motion.

  • Headaches: Pain in your head, half your head, face, sinus, or base of your skull. It may feel like throbbing, pulsating, a dull ache, pressure, tightness, stabbing or burning, and associated with many of these other symptoms.

  • Lightheadedness: a sensation as though you may faint or a feeling like you can’t get enough air.

  • Motion sensitivity / Motion sickness: Increased sensitivity to movement. This can occur with changes in head or body positions, being in a moving vehicle, and walking.

  • Nausea, Vomiting: a sense of queasiness, throwing up or feeling as though you might.

  • Nystagmus: Involuntary eye movements, typically characterized by rhythmic oscillations or jerking. Nystagmus will look different depending on the vestibular or central disorder causing it.

  • Phonophobia: sensitivity to sound – loud noises, restaurants, concerts

  • Photophobia: sensitivity to light, especially fluorescent or light coming through trees

  • Spatial disorientation: Difficulty understanding or perceiving one's position in space, which can lead to problems with coordination and navigation.

  • Tinnitus: perception of sound in the ears from no external sound source. Sounds may be buzzing, ringing, hissing, whistling or clicking. 

  • Vertigo: A sensation of spinning. It can be described as a feeling that you or your surroundings are moving or spinning when there is no actual movement.

  • Visual dependence: increased use of your vision system to provide a sense of balance and orientation in space. It is often associated with a lack of confidence in their vestibular and/or somatosensory input.

  • Visual motion hypersensitivity / Visual vertigo / Visually-induced dizziness: Refers to an enhanced sensitivity or heightened response to visual stimuli, such as movement in the environment, scrolling text, flashing lights, or rapid changes in visual scenes.

About the Author

Cheryl Wylie, is a vestibular physiotherapist and owner of Healing Vertigo. She is also the creator of our Vertigo Treatment App, and instructs vestibular courses to other healthcare professionals.
She offers vestibular physiotherapy for all Ontario Residents. If you're interested in working with Cheryl, connect below!

Disclaimer: This advice is not meant to be a substitute for advice from a medical professional regarding diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment. Always seek advice from your physician, physiotherapist, or other qualified healthcare provider with questions you may have regarding a healthcare condition. The information of this website and email, including but not limiting to text, graphics, videos, images, and other materials are for informational purposes only. Reliance on the information on this website and email is soley at your own risk.