According to the NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, difficulties with balance may be caused by certain health conditions, medications, a problem of the inner ear, or brain trauma. Although most cases of dizziness and difficulties with balance are attributed to problems with the inner ear, the vestibular system is also a complex interaction between eyes and vision; positions of our bones and joints; working to be aware of and hold our bodies still and manage our bodies as we move. We need to be able to focus on what we see while we move and also be aware of our surroundings and our place in the scene.
Some children with sensory integration problems, sensory processing disorders or just growth spurts in typical neurological development experience problems with vestibular processes. They may benefit from sessions swinging safely at the park; being tightly wrapped, held and rocked; or having a session with a Sensory Integration therapist or therapeutic horseback rides (hippotherapy). They may be sitting comfortably on a step or bench and suddenly lose their sense of where there body is in space and fall over. A child with a sensory integration disorder may not feel dizzy before losing their balance. Motor planning problems also complicate these conditions as well as typical developmental stages.
Something as simple as a cold virus or and complicated as head trauma can cause vertigo, a sensation that there is movement, spinning or floating that can make us feel unsteady on our feet, creating a lack of balance. Children and teens may experience nausea during an episode of vertigo. There are many different sensations involved and each person experiences it in their own way.
Some young adults experience vertigo during hay fever season when congestion may affect the inner ear, and find relief using the antihistimine meclazine that is the main ingredient in 'non-drowsy' forms of OTC motion sickness tablets for those traveling by boat, ship or airplane.
Feeling dizziness when lying down or rolling over in bed, or looking up and then down again, is probably Positional Vertigo, due to the change in position of the ear. Particle positioning maneuvers for PV refer to movements that reposition the small calcium carbonate crystals that are part of balance mechanism of the inner ear. If children or teens experience PV in a balcony looking up and then down to the stage or screen, they may develop a fear of that location or heights in general that emotionally paralyzes or terrifies them.
Medical conditions with vertigo as a symptom include Labyrinthitis, Vestibular neuronitis, Ototoxicity, Meniere's Disease, Endolymphatic Hydrops, Mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS), and Perilymph Fistula. Some children and teens experience dizziness due to a temporary illness, inner ear or head injury that may result in long-term effects. Some individuals report feeling dizzy before a seizure, migraine headache, or stroke.
Although fewer cases of vertigo are reported in the very young, even nonverbal children or teens may communicate the distress they feel during episodes. Very often, periods of vertigo resolve themselves without medication, physical therapy (vestibular rehabilitation), or surgery. Mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is a balance disorder associated with sea travel that may be felt briefly after even a short trip on a boat or ship.
Medical professionals who have experience treating vertigo may discourage use of vestibular suppressants like Valium and AntiVert except for immediate treatment of a serious episode, since they may prolong the experience for months for those with a chronic condition that would otherwise have resolved on its own or through physical therapy.
An Ear, Nose and Throat specialist (ENT) or neurologist with experience treating individuals with vertigo should be consulted if a child or teen has repeated experiences with dizziness and loss of balance or after one serious episode that lasts too long to be attributed to lightheadedness. As with most medical problems, parents should seek a second opinion when a problem persists after an initial doctor visit.
Children and teens who have panic attacks may experience vertigo, and anxiety can complicate episodes in unexpected ways. Those with an ongoing balance disorder should be given the support and information needed to cope with both the inconveniences and dangers of the condition.
Browse at your public library, neighborhood bookstore or online retailer for books like:
Active Baby, Healthy Brain: 135 Fun Exercises and Activities to Maximize Your Child's Brain Development from Birth Through Age 5 1/2
No Longer A SECRET: Unique Common Sense Strategies for Children with Sensory or Motor Challenges