How can we stay upright while walking? Feel secure while swinging? Not lose our place while reading? The vestibular system!
The vestibular system is our sense of balance and motion. It uses information from fluid in the inner ear to let us know the overall position of our body, whether or not we are moving, and if we are moving how quickly and in what direction.
Some toddlers experience vestibular delays that interfere with development. Here are some common red flags:
Common Signs of Vestibular Delays or Disorders
Pediatric vestibular challenges sometimes go undiagnosed until a child is in preschool or older, often because it’s difficult for babies and toddlers to describe dizziness and other symptoms they might feel. But if you’re aware of and notice any common red flags, you can discuss them with your pediatrician and reap the benefits of early intervention.
Delayed gross motor skills. Toddlers with vestibular challenges may have a consistent pattern of struggling with movement milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, or jumping.
Frequent vomiting or nausea. You know that rush you sometimes feel when you stand up too quickly from lying down? The vestibular system is what helps you re-orient yourself to prevent you from getting too dizzy and falling over. Toddlers with vestibular conditions may not be able to re-orient themselves when they switch positions, which could make them feel dizzy or even trigger a vomiting episode. They may not have the language to explain what they feel, but may hold their tummy or signal that they want to lie down.
Vision problems. Vestibular challenges can cause vision problems, like double-vision, blurred images, or seeing spots. Again, these problems are tough for toddlers to explain, but they may respond to them by squinting or rubbing their eyes, or blinking frequently. They may also say that their eyes hurt, or that they see spots.
Head pain. Toddlers with vestibular problems may get headaches, or even migraines. These are often triggered by switching positions or moving around a lot. They may touch their head a lot, suint their eyes or, if they have the language, tell you that their head or eyes hurt.
Imbalance. Clumsiness is normal when little ones are learning new motor skills! But toddlers with vestibular challenges may frequently fall, or run into objects or people. This is especially true when falls occur when little ones seem disoriented after turning a corner or standing up from sitting.
If your toddler experiences any of these signs, discuss them with your pediatrician. Pediatric physical therapists have many tools in their toolboxes to help little ones with vestibular challenges.