The ear is the source of most balance disorders, especially vertigo. The ear not only has the function of hearing but contributes to balance as well. The signals sent from the ear to the brain allows you to stay balanced. When these signals are disrupted in some way, balance can become an important issue. Balance is not always looked at as a serious health problem, but it can have serious consequences especially if you are falling a lot. You may only relate dizziness to head injuries, but in fact, it could be a part of middle ear issues.
Vertigo & Balance
Balance is correlated with the vestibular system within the ear, called the labyrinth. The labyrinth is composed of the cochlea and semicircular canals. The semicircular canals are fluid filled loops that inform your brain on head position. Within these canals are hair cells and a structure called the cupula. When you turn your head, the fluid in those semicircular canals moves causing the cupula to stretch, which results in the movement of the hair follicles. The bending of these hair follicles sends individual signals to the brain that tells the brain which way your head is turned. Any disruption in these signals will cause you to be imbalanced.
- Meniere’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Perilymph fistula
- Vestibular neuritis
- Mal de Debarquement
These balance disorders are all related to the ear. Migraines or brain injuries may cause other balance problems.
Vertigo is an intense feeling of dizziness due to a change in head position. Turning your head in any way will cause you to feel dizzy, and you may even fall. It is a result of calcium carbonate crystals falling into the semicircular canals. It weighs on the cupula and causes the wrong signals to be sent to the brain. Labyrinthitis is a condition that leads to the inflammation of the inner ear. If those structures of the inner ear are inflamed, they operate improperly.
Meniere’s Disease is a change in fluid volume in the labyrinth. This shift in ear fluid may lead to vertigo, hearing loss, or tinnitus. The ear may also feel full; this could be due to an increase of fluid in the labyrinth. Acoustic neuroma is a non-cancerous tumor that forms on the nerves of the inner ear. It is a rare condition, but it may cause hearing loss. Perilymph fistula is a leak of inner ear fluid into the middle ear. Several things may cause this condition including injury, change in ear pressure, and too much exertion.
Vestibular Neuritis is inflammation of the vestibular nerve. When the nerve is inflamed, it does not receive the correct signals from the brain. It is caused by a virus and is related to vertigo. The nerve is a crucial part of controlling balance. Vertigo is inevitable in this condition. If you have ever been on a cruise of any kind, you may have experienced Mal de Debarquement. Mal de Debarquement is the feeling of bobbing or rocking after coming off the boat. It is not a serious health condition and may go away after a few days. In some instances, it may be more chronic and last for years.
Treating Balance Disorders
Balance disorders in many cases can be treated. Medications may be used that control nausea and vomiting as well as the dizzy feeling. Surgery may be necessary in cases of Acoustic neuroma. The tumor is not life-threatening, but it can cause hearing loss especially if it continues to grow. Other forms of treatment include therapy or rehab. Vestibular rehab uses exercises to retrain balance in the body. These exercises help correct imbalance as well as helping you adapt. Positioning procedures is a particular treatment of vertigo. It removes the calcium carbonate crystals in the ear. It does not take them out but instead shifts them to other parts of the ear.
You may have experienced dizziness or balance problems after riding a roller coaster or being hit in the head. There are several different causes of dizziness but in many cases, it is related to the inner ear. Being turned too quickly in various directions can complicate the signals being sent to the brain. If the brain cannot locate your head position quick enough, you will experience dizziness. Balance disorders are a common result of ear problems but is not limited to ear problems. It can also be a result of migraines and brain injuries. Balance disorders are not life threatening but can cause other problems such as hearing loss, vomiting and can affect your mood. If you have balance issues after a head injury, it is imperative to see a physician because this could be a symptom of something more serious. Do not ignore balance disorders. The good news is that you do not have to live an imbalanced life. Most balance disorders can be treated, and you can live a life of balance again.
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