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Key points: Pressure, fullness or pain in the skull (not specifically in the ears), light/sound sensitivity, motion sickness, episodic vertigo for more than a few minutes, nausea, medical advice recommended.
What is it?
Vestibular migraine (VM) is not an ordinary migraine. It is a condition that is characterised by a cluster of symptoms that may or may not include headache! Symptoms may include vertigo, tinnitus, hearing distortions, visual distortions, motion sickness, sensitivity to light/sound, headache and brain fog. Or put quite simply, people with VM often report that they feel not-quite-right. VM symptoms can vary as time goes on, people can ‘grow out of it’ or it may grow with you changing each year.
The rhyme and reason of vestibular migraine is not entirely understood. There are some ideas, symptoms may be related to a variable supply of oxygen and blood sugars due to either an excess of blood flow around the brain and inner ears (like a tap running with a full stream of water flow) or due to a restriction of blood flow around these regions (like a tap with a slow and thin stream of flow). Either way, the ears and the brain prefer to have a STEADY stream of oxygen and blood sugar supply, so neither are optimal and could result in distorted sensations. Another explanation is that the neural communication fibres connecting the limbs, ears, eyes, and all of our body parts to the brain are in a state of confusion, as though there is a big traffic jam slowing down the information as it travels from one place in the body and brain to the next.
There is no clear explanation. VM may be partly environmental and partly genetic. It may be triggered by stress, fatigue, emotional upsets, allergies, life changes, traumas, hormonal changes or other factors. Each person has a different VM story to tell. Many people with VM report anxiety and lingering symptoms of feeling not-quite-right between attacks despite normal hearing and balance function. This can feel quite debilitating.
It is really useful to have support tools and strategies for preventing overwhelm. I have seen many VM patients who, after having been medicated for this conditions for decades, are now symptom-free and able to manage their early warning signs without medications. They have returned to confidence. Everyone has a different road to recovery. Awareness of your changing “needs” is key. Explore the layers of your body, mind and ‘soul’… what are you needing?
Remember, if it were ‘easy’ to understand, we would have it all sorted out by now. Give yourself time and kindness to explore this at your own pace. You can feel better.