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Vestibular hypofunction means partial or complete permanent damage to the peripheral vestibular system, or inner ear, which can result from various causes such as trauma, infection, or lack of adequate blood flow in the inner ear.

Permanent damage to the vestibular system can range from 1% weakness to 100% loss, and is usually clinically diagnosed as a vestibular hypofunction if the documented weakness is 26% or more.

Vestibular hypofunction that equals a 100% loss is referred to as a “complete vestibular loss” in one or both ears.

The cardiovascular risk factors of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes increase the risk of vestibular hypofunction.

Vestibular hypofunction can be a result of certain ototoxic medications that can damage the inner ear on both right and left sides.

If a person had a previous bacterial or viral infection in their inner ear, which is called vestibular neuritis or vestibular labyrinthitis, they may or may not have sustained permanent damage causing a vestibular hypofunction.

The resulting vestibular hypofunction from any of the causes listed above may be present, but not noticeable, when a person is younger.

Many people can recover from a vestibular hypofunction over time through their normal, active daily lifestyle, but people who are sedentary or afraid to move around will likely require vestibular rehab for an optimal recovery.

Symptoms of a vestibular hypofunction may present as a dizziness, motion-activated vertigo, balance problems, blurry vision with quick head turns, or unexplained falls later in life.

The symptoms that show up later in life may be due to normal changes to vision with aging, onset of visual pathology, peripheral neuropathy, presbyastasis, or vestibular decompensation after a period of immobility, or relative inactivity, such as a stay in the hospital, an episode of depression or illness, or after surgery.

Vestibular rehabilitation is shown to be effective for resolving complaints related to vestibular hypofunction. A fairly new clinical practice guideline for peripheral vestibular hypofunction is now available to guide clinicians.


This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content and any comments by Dr. Kim Bell, DPT are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. The details of any case mentioned in this post represent a typical patient that Dr. Bell might see and do not describe the circumstances of a specific individual.

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