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Vestibular and balance function tests

Your doctor has asked for tests to be done on your child’s balance system. This includes the vestibular organs in the inner ear which controls balance.

These tests are sometimes done when a someone has:

  • dizziness
  • vertigo
  • unsteadiness
  • poor balance

This resource explains what vertigo is, and what will happen during the vestibular tests.

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a feeling of movement even though the head and body are actually still. It usually makes people feel as if they are falling or the room is spinning. In severe cases it can be quite distressing.

What causes vertigo?

Your sense of balance is controlled by a system that brings together information from your:

  • eyes
  • movement sensors in your joints
  • balance organs in your inner ears

If any part of this system is not working properly, the brain cannot to put all the information together. This confusion can cause vertigo.

Where does the vestibular function testing take place?

The tests are done in the hearing services department at Sheffield Children’s hospital.

What is involved in vestibular function testing?

The tests help to find whether your child’s balance problem comes from the organs in their ears. The tests we do will depend on the age and cooperation level of your child.

Your child will wear some special goggles which record their eye movements. This helps us check the balance system in their ears and brain. We will also sit them on a special chair which rotates so we can check their eye movements. Other tests may just be watching the movement of a small light on a screen in front of them or wearing a pair of goggles whilst we move their head.

The balance organs in the ears can also be tested by putting a small amount of warm or cool water in each of your child’s ear and recording their eye movements after. This allows us to compare how well the 2 balance organs are working on each side. It helps us see whether the dizziness might be caused by just 1 side of their head or both. Right after we put water into your child’s ears, there may be a slight dizzy or off-balance feeling. This is usually mild and does not last long.

How long will the test take?

The test usually takes about 1 hour, but the appointment might be an hour and a half so that we can ask you some questions. We will ask you about your child’s balance problem and talk about the results.

What do I do now?

Please confirm whether you are going to be able to attend the appointment or not. If you are cannot attend your appointment, please let us know as soon as possible so the appointment can then be given to someone else who needs it.

If you would like to ask any more questions about the tests or let us know if you or your child have any specific needs, please phone us.

Is something missing from this resource that you think should be included? Please let us know

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: AUD10

Resource Type: Article

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