When Sound Makes You Vertiginous

A blurry image looking down a spiral stairwell

For some people, a musical tone is enough to induce vertigo and feelings of being drunk. These individuals often have a small hole or defect in the bone that surrounds the canals of the inner ear. Normally, the fluid inside these canals reacts when we rotate our heads, triggering a counterrotation of our eyes that helps stabilize the image on our retinas. But when there’s a defect in the bone surrounding the canal, certain acoustic tones may pump that fluid directly. The patient’s eyes then try to correct for a rotation that’s not occurring, thereby inducing dizziness and vertigo. (Image credit: M. Moiner; research credit: M. Iversen et al.; submitted by Marc A.)

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