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Balance System Disorders

Signs and symptoms of balance system disorders vary due to a wide range of underlying causes. Signs and symptoms may be episodic, acute, or chronic, and may include the following:

  • Confusion/disorientation
  • Developmental and/or reflex delays
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Falls/near falls
  • Fatigue
  • Headache/migraine
  • Imbalance/disequilibrium/unsteadiness
  • Impaired mobility/gait abnormality
  • Lightheadedness/feeling faint
  • Motion intolerance/motion sickness
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Nystagmus
  • Oscillopsia (visual disturbance in which viewed stationary objects or surroundings move coincident with active or passive head movements and may appear to be jumping or blurred)
  • Vertigo (dizziness involving an illusory sensation of spinning, swaying, or motion)
  • Visual disturbances

Accompanying auditory symptoms may include the following:

  • Aural fullness
  • Autophony (hearing one's own voice or other self-generated noises as unusually loud)
  • Hearing loss (bilateral, unilateral, or new-onset)
  • Sensitivity to loud sounds
  • Tinnitus
  • Vestibular hyperacusis/Tullio's phenomenon (sound-induced imbalance, falling, and/or dizziness)

Functional modifications may be observed, such as the following:

  • Walking slowly and deliberately
  • Limiting head movement
  • Using an assistive mobility device


Identifying children with balance disorders, vestibular deficits, or dizziness can be a challenge. Often, children will not report symptoms and may be incapable of verbalizing the abnormal sensations that they are experiencing (McCaslin, Jacobson, & Gruenwald, 2011; Wiener-Vacher, 2008). Distinct differences may exist in symptoms of dizziness and balance disorders in the pediatric population as compared with adults. Vestibular system impairments in children may present as developmental delay in activities such as walking. Hearing and speech professionals are in a position to listen and respond to parents' concerns regarding their child's balance as well as significant delays in a child's motor milestones.

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