Your Balance System: How Your Ears Play a Role


By Starkey Hearing Aids

Diagnose your dizziness
While most people simply say, “I feel dizzy” when describing their symptoms, it’s important for your doctor to know which type of dizziness you feel.

Take balance issues seriously. Often taken for granted, good balance is necessary to perform daily activities. But our balance system is complex and delicate, and many things can contribute to loss of equilibrium or dizziness. While balance problems can occur at any age, for people 65 and older balance related falls account for more than half of accidental deaths, and more than 300,000 hip fractures a year according to National Institutes of Health. Balance issues at any age should prompt a visit to a healthcare professional who can properly diagnose and treat the problem.

Light-headedness is the feeling that you are about to faint or pass out. Although you may feel dizzy, you do not feel as though you or your surroundings are moving, and it’s usually not caused by a serious problem.

Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement taking place. Vertigo is typically a symptom of a more serious, underlying condition.

Vestibular Organs Balance 101
Two tiny sensory organs near the cochlea in the inner ear, called vestibular organs, are key to maintaining balance. Each is filled with fluid (called endolymph) that moves when your head moves placing pressure on tiny hairs in your inner ear.

When the body changes position, the tiny hairs send signals to the brain which are combined with information from the eyes, nerves and muscles. Using all this information, the brain helps you keep your balance.

Common Equilibrium Disorders
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). The most common disorder of the inner ear’s vestibular system, BPPV causes brief but intense episodes of vertigo when you change the position of your head, such as sitting up in bed. Causes of BPPV vary, from migraines and viruses to drug reactions, but treatment is available.

Ménière’s disease. This inner-ear disorder can cause unpredictable episodes of vertigo, sometimes severe, and can lead to hearing loss. Ménière’s is a chronic condition, but treatment can relieve symptoms. The exact cause is unknown, but symptoms appear to result from abnormal amounts of endolymph fluid.

Why your balance might be off
Balance issues arise when something interrupts this coordinated process. Aging can result in the natural loss of endolymph fluid and cause the small hairs in the inner ear to become less sensitive. Infections, head trauma and certain illnesses can also cause balance disorders and dizziness. For more information about hearing and balance, talk to your hearing healthcare professional.