Noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation (nGVS)

Timothy C. Hain, MD. • Page last modified: September 29, 2022

See also: bilat_causebilat_preventBilat_recentbilat_vngentamicin_toxicityototoxic_dropsototoxins progressive_bilateral regeneration sensory_substitution


This page provides more detail about an emerging treatment of bilateral vestibular loss involving electrical devices to add noise to the system.

A recent review of galvanic stimulation stated "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). " (Sluydts et al, 2020) Here we are only discussing GVS.

Noisy Galvanic Vestibular Stimulation

There is now a modest literature concerning noisy galvanic vestibular stimulation (nGVS) in the treatment of bilateral vestibular loss. Electrodes that pass electric current through the inner ear (and surrounding skull) are used. Roughly 1 ma of current is applied, which is not especially painful. 5 ma is painful.

The hypothesis is that "stochastic resonance" is used to increase the firing rate of a nonlinear system operating at subthreshold levels by adding noise, bringing the system up to threshold. (Wuehr et al, 2018) Hm. So this idea would logically depend on having some useful vestibular input, that is made to work more efficiently by one of these devices. Schniep et al (2018) reported data supporting this idea.

Other hypotheses would seem reasonable -- could the effect be a placebo ? Well, if it is, thats OK -- whatever works.

Could there be a change in balance strategy in response to noise coming in from the vestibular system ? Perhaps people upweight other senses when they decide their vestibular system is even worse than before. Helmchen et al (2020) documented some changes in brain processing, that might be relevant here.

Could noise be better than distorted information from a partially functioning vestibular system. We doubt it.

Literature review of nGVS:


The general idea that a tiny amount of noise added to the inner ear is slightly helpful is not very plausible.

One would think that other interventions that raise vestibular neuron firing, such as a strong cup of coffee, a stimulant, etc, might have a similar effect. Or just being a little anxious. Hm. Maybe no money is available to investigate the effect of a strong cup of coffee on vestibular function of bilateral patients.

Nevertheless, the literature is growing, and perhaps nGVS it is worth a try.


There is now evidence for a modest effect of noisy galvanic stimulation in persons with bilateral vestibular loss, in the direction of improving balance.