Feeling dizzy? How poor hearing could also be affecting your balance

You might be surprised to learn that it is not only your eyes and brain that help you to understand where you are, stay upright and keep you from falling over. A lot of people who experience trouble with their balance find that the problem is to do with their ears.

Bare with us while we get a bit science-y but our balance is controlled by a maze of bone and tissue located in the inner ear; this is home to semicircular canals, the otolithic organs and the cochlea. The cochlea is used for hearing, as we have discussed so many times here before. It is the canals which are used for balance. They look like three circular loops and each one is responsible for sensing a different type of movement; one for up and down, another for side to side and the final for tilting. There is fluid in these canals and when it moves, the hair cells sense the movement and send a signal to the brain. This means we can understand how we are moving and ensure we don’t lose our balance. This system is so sensitive, it can even establish when we are moving in a lift or a vehicle.

Evidently, this means that any problems in the inner ear can lead to balance problems such as dizziness, vertigo or even nausea. There could be instances where you feel you are moving even though you’re not, struggle to stay upright or even have motion sickness from standing still. Severe vertigo can even cause people who are lying down still to feel sick. Problems such as these can become very serious as they impact your ability to move around safely.

There are many different causes that can lead to balance problems; one of which is hearing loss. It is worth mentioning that not all people who have a hearing loss will suffer from balance issues and not all people who do suffer with balance issues will have a hearing loss. There are several balance disorders that can result in both hearing loss and problems with balance. Two of these are Labyrinthitis and Meniere’s disease.

Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear where one of the structures within it becomes swollen and inflamed. There are many symptoms of this including hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo and nausea. The majority of people who experience this will be treated and cured with no lasting damage, however severe cases or frequent re-infection can result in lasting damage.

Meniere’s disease is caused where there is a heightened pressure in the same structure in the inner ear that we discussed above. The symptoms are the same as above although without the nausea. Mostly, Meniere’s disease will only affect one ear. Currently there is no cure, although there is medication that can be taken to help manage the symptoms. Generally after a few years, the condition will go away naturally.

A balance disorder is any condition that leads to a loss of balance of sense or vertigo / dizziness. These can be caused for lots of different reasons such as ear infections, low blood pressure, tumours or improper blood circulation. No matter the cause of the disorder, it can lead to feeling like you are tipping over, spinning or floating all whilst standing or lying still. Some people experience a worsening of their vertigo when they turn their head, especially when getting out of bed or rolling over. People suffering with balance disorders may stumble, hold the wall to centre themselves or find themselves being dragged to the ground. The severity of these symptoms varies wildly from person to person.

The treatment of balance disorders depends on the cause of the condition. Ear infections can be treated simply with antibiotics, while illnesses such as those described above may require other medication. There are some permanent and untreatable balance problems and people who suffer with these may attempt Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT) to help with the symptoms. This helps to desensitise the balance system to certain movements so that the person can move around more easily without triggering their vertigo. It is essential that VRT is performed only by a specialist.

If you have any balance problems that you believe may be caused by a hearing loss, please don’t hesitate to give us a call and we would be happy to advise.

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