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Understanding Balance Disorders

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What is a Balance Disorder?

A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel dizzy, or off balance while sitting, walking, lying down, or rolling over.

How does our balance system work?
Maintaining balance depends on information received by the brain from three sources: the vestibular organs of our inner ear, our eyes, and proprioceptors in our muscles and joints. The brain uses information from these three sources to determine movement, sense of balance and spatial orientation. Damage to one or more of these systems can cause us to feel unsteady or dizzy.

Symptoms of a Balance Disorder
If our balance system is damaged in some way, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Vertigo and dizziness
  • Imbalance and spatial disorientation
  • Vision problems
  • Hearing changes
  • Other

Causes of Balance Disorders
Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or problems in the inner ear or brain.

The most common causes of balance disorders include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labrynthitis, vestibular neuritis, Meniere’s disease, endolymphatic hydrops, and perilymph fistula. They can also include superior canal dehiscence, acoustic neuroma, ototoxicity, enlarged vestibular aqueduct, and Mal deBarquement.  Other causes include, but are not limited to, migraines, autoimmune disorders, allergies, cardiovascular disease, back and neck injuries, and aging.

Diagnosis of a Balance Disorder
Due to the high number of causes of a Balance Disorder, a thorough evaluation of the inner ear is necessary. This may require several different types of tests. Doctors and audiologists use information from a person’s medical history, physical exam, and hearing assessments as a baseline for ordering diagnostic tests to assess the vestibular system and to rule out possible causes of Balance Disorders.  These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Electronystagmography (ENG)
  • Rotation Tests
  • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP)
  • Computerized Dynamic Posturography (CDP)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Computerized Axial Tomography (CT)

If you’ve noticed balance problems, or changes in your hearing, please speak with a Living Sounds hearing health care professional.

For a better understanding of balance disorders visit the Vestibular Disorders Association website.

Raeanne G. Rowswell, MSc., R.Aud, Aud(C)
Registered Audiologist

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