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Understanding How Ears Affect Your Balance

Person Walking On A Log
If you're having trouble with your balance, you might not immediately think of visiting a doctor who specializes in hearing. However, this visit might be just the solution for you. These doctors study how to fix problems with the ears, and, strangely enough, balance is actually controlled within the ears. Understanding a bit more about how the ear controls balance will help you determine which type of doctor to visit.

Inner Ear and Motion Sensitivity

Within your inner ear are a series of canals filled with fluid. Tiny hairs inside these canals sense when the liquid is moving and in which direction. This information is passed on to your brain to inform it about the position of your head, whether your head is moving, and how it compares to gravity.

Other Parts of the Balance Puzzle

Information from your inner ear alone doesn't control balance. Your brain also uses information from your leg muscles and your eyes to help keep you balanced. Problems with any of these body parts, including the brain, can bring on balance problems. The brain will try to compensate if it receives signals that aren't normal, but this isn't always possible.
Problems with your brain or your inner ear aren't the only potential causes of balance issues. Low blood pressure can also make you feel dizzy, as can problems with the eyes, taking certain medications, having a head injury, having poor blood circulation, or having had certain types of infections. A doctor can often determine the cause and work to correct it.

Signs of a Balance Problem

When the parts of your inner ear involved with balance, called the vestibular system, aren't working properly, you may start to feel lightheaded or dizzy, have difficulty walking, have blurry vision, or even become disoriented. Balance issues also sometimes cause nausea, difficulty concentrating, panic, diarrhea, depression, and fatigue.

Common Balance Disorders

If you notice any signs of a balance problem, you could have one of the common balance disorders.
  • Meniere's disease - While the cause of this condition isn't known, it can cause hearing loss, a spinning sensation, and a feeling of pressure or ringing in the ears. Meniere's disease often affects only one ear but can affect both. Potential treatments include dietary changes, medications, and surgery.
  • Vestibular neuronitis - This condition is characterized by vertigo due to an inflammation of a nerve in the inner ear caused by a virus or, less commonly, a bacterial infection. This condition sometimes only affects one ear and tends to come on quickly and unexpectedly.
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo - This type of vertigo occurs when you move your head in certain directions. It's often due to a head injury causing the vestibular system to send conflicting information to the brain. Treatment involves the doctor performing certain movements to correct the problem.
  • Labyrinthitis - Sometimes an upper respiratory infection can find its way to the ear. This infection causes inflammation, which can bring on balance difficulties. Permanent hearing loss or balance problems sometimes occur if this condition isn't treated in a timely manner.

Getting Treatment for Balance Disorders

The first step to getting treated for your balance problems is typically to visit an otolaryngologist, which is a doctor of the ears, nose, and throat. The doctor will examine you to determine the potential cause of the issue. Treatment of an existing medical issue or a change in medication may solve the problem. However, not all balance conditions are curable.
Contact us at Birmingham Hearing & Balance Center for more information on balance disorders or to schedule an appointment. We treat hearing loss as well as all of the most common balance issues brought on by problems with the vestibular system.