Your ears are responsible for more than listening and sending audio signals to your brain. The vestibular structures in your inner ear also contribute to your balance control.
What is a Balance Disorder?
It’s a condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady while standing, sitting or lying down. Your balance is collectively controlled by your vision, muscles, joints and inner ears. The two parts of your inner ear – the cochlea and vestibular system – are responsible for helping you maintain your spatial awareness.
The cochlea sends auditory signals to the brain to localize sounds, which keeps you aware of your surroundings. The vestibular system is comprised of three tubes called semicircular canals. They contain spatial sensory cells that are activated when you tilt your head.
Balance Disorder Symptoms
- Lightheadedness or faintness
- Blurred vision
Types of Balance Disorders
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): This type of vertigo occurs with a change in head position. You may experience dizziness when you bend down or look over your shoulder. It’s triggered by the movement of loose calcium carbonate crystals in the semicircular canals that send false signals to the brain.
Vestibular neuronitis: This condition is an inflammation of the vestibular nerve caused by viral infections.
Meniere’s disease: You may experience hearing loss, balance issues, vertigo and tinnitus if you have Meniere’s disease. It’s caused by fluid build-up in the labyrinth of the ear.
Labyrinthitis: This inflammation of the inner ear is caused by infection and can lead to vertigo.
How is Hearing Loss Linked to Balance Disorders?
Because your ears are partially responsible for maintaining your equilibrium, anything that affects your hearing can also impact your balance. While balance problems can occur independently of hearing loss, head and ear trauma, ear infections and noise exposure can result in permanent damage to the inner ear, which can disturb your hearing and balance.
Diagnosing Balance Disorders
You’ll likely need a hearing evaluation and videonystagmography (VNG) to diagnose a balance disorder. VNG testing involves evaluating nystagmus, a type of eye movement that occurs when the brain is determining the body’s position. You will participate in a series of tests that include following visual stimuli, head and body movements and rotational exercises to determine the cause of your discomfort.