Mal de debarquement? Is that like BPPV?

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We recently were asked: “I think that I have Mal de Debarquement syndrome. I believe this because I tend to get it after train travel. In the past it took 6 weeks for it to go away. Now, it seems to be taking longer. Does the Epley maneuver work for this?”

Until recently very few people knew about Mal de Debarquement syndrome. This syndrome can occur after any type of travel. The best analogy is sea sickness. When you first step onto a boat you might feel sea sick due to the constant motion of the boat. After a few days you get used to it and the sensation goes away. However, the same can happen when you get off the boat. The land may feel like it is moving. Anyone who has used roller skates, skis or ice skates can attest to how strange it feels after a few hours of skating or skiing and then returning to your street shoes. The same is true after getting off a boat. It may take hours to weeks to get used to land. In some people this adjustment never happens and they feel sea sick on land forever. We call this Mal de Debarquement, or sickness after disembarking.

Mal de Debarquement and BPPV can be differentiated in a couple of ways.

1)BPPV is positional in onset meaning that it will not occur unless you move into a certain position.
2)BPPV is also short lived rather than continuous. Mal de Debarquement syndrome should be continuous.
3)Mal de Debarquement can occur, and perhaps be worse, when stationary. It is the sensation of motion where there is no actual motion. This is different than BPPV which is the sensation of spinning (either you spinning or the world spinning around you)

The Epley maneuver or devices which assist with the treatment maneuver only work with BPPV. That is not to say that you cannot have both, but we always suggest you see your own doctor and get a diagnosis of BPPV prior to using any treatment method.