Does Your Child Have Issues With Balance? Here's How To Tell If It May Be A Vestibular Disorder

20 March 2020
 Categories: , Blog

Balance problems are often tricky to assess in children. After all, children don't have very developed motor skills. It's natural for them to have some difficulty with balance — they're learning as they go.

However, sometimes a child's problems with balance may be due to a vestibular disorder. This means that there's a problem with your child's inner ear, which is responsible for sending signals about balance and head movement to your child's brain. Vestibular disorders can cause chronic balance problems along with bouts of vertigo.

Unfortunately, vestibular disorders often go undiagnosed in children. It's difficult to tell if a child is a little bit clumsy or if they actually have a vestibular disorder. If your child has unusual problems with balance, read on to find out how to tell if your child may have a vestibular disorder and what you can do about it.

What Are Some Signs That Your Child Has a Vestibular Disorder?

One of the earliest signs is that your child doesn't reach crawling or walking milestones on time. It's normal for toddlers to fall down often when they're learning to walk — it's an entirely new skill for them. However, it may be a sign of a vestibular disorder if it takes them quite a while to learn to walk or if they fall down for no reason while walking.

Vertigo can be another sign of a vestibular disorder, and it's often difficult for children to express exactly what they're feeling. Younger children may cling to you tightly when they're having an episode of vertigo, since they feel like they're falling down. Older children may tell you that they feel like they're spinning around.

School-aged children may struggle in sports, especially sports that require tracking an object with your eyes. Baseball is a good example. Vestibular problems sometimes cause children to feel dizzy when they're tracking moving objects.

What Can Cause Vestibular Problems in Children?

One of the most common causes is benign paroxysmal vertigo of childhood. BPVC happens when tiny crystals build up in the inner ear. It typically causes sensations of vertigo when a child moves their head. The crystals prevent fluid in the inner ear from moving correctly, which causes the eyes and the inner ear to send mismatched messages to the brain. This results in vertigo that typically lasts a few minutes.

Infections can also cause vestibular problems. Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear that can cause swelling, and the swelling results in a change in the way fluid moves around in it. Vestibular neuritis, an infection of the vestibular nerve, can also cause balance problems and vertigo.

Additionally, some children experience vestibular problems when they have a migraine headache. They may have vertigo and problems maintaining balance either before, during, or after the migraine.

How Are Vestibular Disorders Treated in Children?

Vestibular disorders resulting from an infection will typically go away after the infection clears up. For long-lasting vertigo and balance problems, however, vestibular balance rehabilitation is the recommended approach.

The main goal of vestibular balance rehabilitation is to help your child's brain adapt to their vestibular disorder. It includes a variety of exercises that place stress on your child's vestibular system, such as walking in a straight line while your child tilts their head or walking on uneven ground barefoot.

Performing these vestibular therapy exercises teaches the brain to rely more on sight and proprioception rather than on messages sent from the inner ear. Vestibular therapy is often very successful in children because their brains are extremely adaptable.

If you think that your child may have a vestibular disorder, schedule an appointment with your child's pediatrician. It's important to know what's causing it, especially if it's due to a treatable infection.

Afterwards, find a vestibular balance rehabilitation clinic in your area and schedule an appointment for vestibular therapy. Children often show rapid improvements in balance along with less frequent episodes of vertigo.