What is oscillopsia or why can you sometimes feel like you are falling for no reason?

Surely on more than one occasion you have felt a certain feeling of vertigo just in the moments before falling asleep. Suddenly, you notice that you fall and nothing can stop your fall. Logically, it is about a hypgnagogic jolt, typical of falling into the arms of sleep: in the first phase of the dream there is a disengagement of the vestibular system (related to balance and spatial control) and kinesthetic (perception of position and movement). This momentary decompensation causes the brain and body to not be compensated, hence the feeling of falling into a void.

But what happens when you are fully awake and fully awake and feel a noticeable sensation of loss of orientation, balance, and suddenly you feel vertigo, as if the ground does not exist and your feet are falling endlessly? This unpleasant and worrying sensation is known as oscillopsia, and is produced by a visual illusion in which the environment, always static, acquires movement. In case of having suffered an episode, it is best to go to an otolaryngologist, since the problem derives from a deterioration of the vestibulo-oculomotor reflex, which is mainly responsible for the inner ear.

The most common way in which this failure manifests is when we turn around on ourselves and then stop short

When this reflex doesn't respond properly, ocular drift occurs with head movement, which causes a retinal image drift or retinal error, which is falsely interpreted as excessive movement of the visual environment that surrounds us, according to a 2001 study by the Spanish Society of Otorhinolaryngolia (SEORL).

The importance of hearing

In some way, this syndrome endorses the enormous importance of the ear in the tasks of orientation and perception of space, much more even than sight itself, which ends up being a mere cerebral projection of what surrounds us. This syndrome can lead the patient to suffer brief and spontaneous episodes of vertigoeven when idle, but in general it manifests itself through a sensation of imbalance of the body itself in the middle of space. According to the SEORL report, oscillopsia (the perception of movement in the spatial environment) is more frequent in young subjects in the event of complete impairment or extensive impairment of vestibular function.

Have you ever ridden a boat on a day of big waves and when you touched down, you fleetingly felt that you were still moving?

As we said, it is a distortion in perception that generates the false illusion of movement or a sensation of vertigo, and in some cases it can manifest itself in a very slight way like any other deficit in the reflex actions that our nervous system triggers. Without going any further, the most common way of manifesting is when we roll over ourselves for a few minutes and then we stopped short. Suddenly, you will notice how your vision becomes blurry and you notice that the legs cannot be supported properly, along with a feeling like vertigo that causes you to have to sit to regain normality.

"Have you ever ridden a boat on a big wave day and when you hit land you felt for a fleeting feeling that you were still moving? ask rhetorically Helen S. Cohen, otorhinolaryngologist at Baylor College of Medicine in a recent article on the subject published in 'Gizmodo'. "This kind of situation happens because the brain receives a lot of information from the vestibular system and has to adapt, hence it then needs to take its time to get rid of the information" that, in the case of the previous example, it had previously received when it was floating in the sea and riding the waves.

Those untimely falls …

Alaina Basset, Professor of otorhinolaryngology at the University of Southern California, goes much further: "The vestibular system not only works to coordinate our body to move through the environment, but also integrates with the visual and somatosensory systems, in order to maintain a stable vision and coordinate our limbs to move safely and avoid falls, "he points out in the aforementioned medium." The perception that we are going to fall is closely related to a dysfunction within the vestibular organs, located in the inner ear. If these change or do not respond, we depend only on our visual and somatosensory systems to keep us up and safe. "

The worrying thing is when we experience oscillopsia too often, especially when we are at rest and there is no sensation of movement. What can be the causes behind this sudden and continued decrease in the functions of the vestibular system? Basset believes they are the changes in the cardiovascular system, increased stress or anxiety, or certain neurological conditions. In case this is your case and you think you suffer too many episodes of vertigo, do not hesitate to consult a doctor.