Scientific publications

Electrical Vestibular Stimulation in Humans: A Narrative Review

Sep 18, 2019 | Magazine: Audiology & Neuro-otology

Sluydts M (1), Curthoys I (2), Vanspauwen R (3), Papsin BC (4), Cushing SL (4), Ramos A (5), Ramos de Miguel A (5), Borkoski Barreiro S (5), Barbara M (6), Manrique M (7), Zarowski A (3).

(1) European Institute for Otorhinolaryngology, GZA Hospitals Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium,
(2) Vestibular Research Laboratory, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.
(3) European Institute for Otorhinolaryngology, GZA Hospitals Antwerp, Wilrijk, Belgium.
(4) Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, The Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
(5) Hearing Loss Unit, Otorhinolaryngology, Head and Neck Department, Complejo Hospitalario Universitario Insular Materno Infantil, Las Palmas of Gran Canaria, Spain.
(6) NESMOS Department, ENT Clinic, Sapienza University, Roma, Italy.
(7) Otorhinolaryngology Department, Clinica Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.


In patients with bilateral vestibulopathy, the regular treatment options, such as medication, surgery, and/or vestibular rehabilitation, do not always suffice. Therefore, the focus in this field of vestibular research shifted to electrical vestibular stimulation (EVS) and the development of a system capable of artificially restoring the vestibular function. Key Message: Currently, three approaches are being investigated: vestibular co-stimulation with a cochlear implant (CI), EVS with a vestibular implant (VI), and galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS). All three applications show promising results but due to conceptual differences and the experimental state, a consensus on which application is the most ideal for which type of patient is still missing.


Vestibular co-stimulation with a CI is based on "spread of excitation," which is a phenomenon that occurs when the currents from the CI spread to the surrounding structures and stimulate them. It has been shown that CI activation can indeed result in stimulation of the vestibular structures. Therefore, the question was raised whether vestibular co-stimulation can be functionally used in patients with bilateral vestibulopathy. A more direct vestibular stimulation method can be accomplished by implantation and activation of a VI. The concept of the VI is based on the technology and principles of the CI. Different VI prototypes are currently being evaluated regarding feasibility and functionality. So far, all of them were capable of activating different types of vestibular reflexes. A third stimulation method is GVS, which requires the use of surface electrodes instead of an implanted electrode array. However, as the currents are sent through the skull from one mastoid to the other, GVS is rather unspecific. It should be mentioned though, that the reported spread of excitation in both CI and VI use also seems to induce a more unspecific stimulation. Although all three applications of EVS were shown to be effective, it has yet to be defined which option is more desirable based on applicability and efficiency. It is possible and even likely that there is a place for all three approaches, given the diversity of the patient population who serves to gain from such technologies.

CITATION  Audiol Neurootol. 2019 Sep 18:1-19. doi: 10.1159/000502407.