Ear and balance disorders may sometimes produce frightening symptoms. These symptoms may range from a slight dizziness to feeling disoriented or even fainting.
Normal balance is created when our visual (eyes), vestibular (inner ear) and somatosensory system (input from skin, muscle, tendons and joints) are functioning properly. When these systems function improperly, your normal balance can be affected.
Our doctor performs ear and balance disorder evaluation and treatment for patients in our region who experience symptoms of a balance disorder.
How do I know if I have a balance disorder?
You may have a balance disorder if you notice one or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling lightheaded or like you might faint
- Feeling unsteady
- Feeling as if you are moving when you’re standing still or sitting
- Feeling as if the room is spinning around you
- Feeling as if you’re losing your balance and you may fall
- Blurred vision
- Losing sense of time, where you are, or feeling disoriented
These symptoms may be mild, lasting only a few seconds or minutes, or may be more severe, resulting in total disability.
What creates our physical sense of balance?
Our sense of balance is primarily controlled by the vestibular system in the brain which collects information from the vestibular organs in the eyes, inner ear, and somatosensory systems (skin, muscle, tendons and joints). For example, the vestibular system sends signals to our muscles (that hold up us upright), and neural structures controlling eye movements.
What causes a balance disorder?
Balance disorders can be caused by variety of conditions including bacterial or viral ear infections, a head injury such as whiplash, a blood circulation disorder that can affect the inner ear or brain, and certain health conditions. Medications may cause certain dizziness and balance issues, and the aging process may also affect your sense of balance as you get older.
For some, nervous and circulatory systems can be the source of some posture and balance problems. Low blood pressure is an example of a circulatory system disorder that can make you feel dizzy when you suddenly stand up. Arthritis or eye muscle imbalance, problems in the skeletal or visual systems, also may cause balance problems. For many people, however, their balance disorder can begin all of a sudden and with no obvious cause.
What are some types of balance disorders?
Many types of balance problems are caused by different medical conditions. Some of the most common are:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or positional vertigo
This is a form of vertigo caused by particles that break off and accumulate behind a membrane in the inner ear canal. Brief, intense episodes of vertigo occur because of a specific change in the position of your head. This condition usually results from a head injury or simply getting older.
This disease is associated with episodes of vertigo, tinnitus (a buzzing or ringing in the ear), irregular hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. This occurs with excessive fluid buildup in the inner ear. Currently, the cause of Ménière’s disease is unknown.
This inflammation or infection of the inner ear causes a loss of balance and dizziness. Most patients acquire this condition from an upper respiratory infection like the flu.
This may be caused by a virus and is an inflammation of the vestibular nerve. The primary symptom is vertigo.
This is a type of headache that causes dizziness and sensitivity to motion. It may be triggered by turning the head quickly, being in a crowded or confusing place, or driving and riding in a vehicle.
This is a leakage of inner ear fluid into the middle ear and usually occurs after a head injury, drastic changes in atmospheric pressure (as when scuba diving), physical exertion, ear surgery, or chronic ear infections. Besides nausea and dizziness, most notable with this condition is the symptom of unsteadiness when standing or walking that increases with activity and decreases with rest.
Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (MdDS)
This balance disorder generally happens after sea travel or an ocean cruise, and patients feel as if they are continuously rocking or bobbing. For most people these symptoms disappear within hours or days after they reach land; however, severe cases may last months or even years.
This is a noncancerous (or benign) growth on the acoustic nerve, the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. Symptoms may include dizziness, loss of balance, tinnitus and hearing loss.
How is a balance disorder treated?
First, our doctor performs a thorough examination and evaluation. Our doctor will then discuss with you your diagnosis and prescribe the appropriate treatment for your condition. Treatment varies with each of the various types of balance disorders.