What is a Balance Disorder?
Most of us have experienced dizziness or lightheadedness at some point in our lives, perhaps when we stand up too quickly. You may have even experienced dizziness where it felt like the world was spinning.
So, why does it happen out of the blue? There are many possible causes for the symptoms of dizziness and lightheadedness. However, these symptoms most often occur when there is something wrong with your balance system.
The organs responsible for balance are housed in the vestibular system in the inner ear. It’s a complex system that relies on information from other senses, such as your eyes, ears, heart or legs to help it work properly. If any one or more of these parts of the system don’t work correctly, it can lead to a balance disorder.
Today we will be diving into the specifics of what a balance disorder is, the many symptoms that come with it and how you can treat it.
What Are the Symptoms of a Balance Disorder?
If you have experienced some of the following issues, even for a short period of time, you may have a problem in your balance system.
- Feeling unsteady on your feet (wobbling when you stand or walk).
- Feeling like you are falling or might fall.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Vertigo (feeling like the room is spinning).
- Changes in your vision.
- Tinnitus (noises in your ears or head).
- You may also experience nausea, vomiting, confusion, fear and changes in heart rate.
What Causes These Problems?
There are many conditions that can produce the symptoms listed above, and the specific symptoms are often an indicator of the cause of the problem.
Two of the most common symptoms of a balance disorder are vertigo and tinnitus, and we’ll explain their causes below.
Vertigo is a definite spinning sensation (not to be confused with dizziness) and can be associated with various conditions.
The cause of vertigo can be due to issues in the brain or inner ear. The three most common causes are:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): This is the most common cause of vertigo in adults. It’s a result of crystals in the inner ear displaced from their usual location and moving around in the inner ear. People who have vertigo often experience nausea, vomiting and can’t stand up.
- Vestibular Neuritis: Vestibular Neuritis is the second most common problem identified relating to balance. Patients will notice significant and continued nausea and problems walking. It is triggered by inflammation of the nerves in the vestibular system likely caused by a virus.
- Meniere’s Disease: Characterised by a collection of symptoms, Meniere’s Disease is rare. The symptoms include vertigo, tinnitus and a decline in hearing.
Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss and accompanies problems with the vestibular system. Tinnitus is a sound that is heard in the head or ears. It has been reported that about two in three people suffer from tinnitus at some point in their lives in Australia.
The presentation of tinnitus can also vary. For example, tinnitus can be in one or both ears. The sound reported varies, although it’s commonly described as ringing. However, people can also hear buzzing, humming, static and ocean sounds. The occurrences differ too, with some people reporting it as constant and others as occasional.
The intensity of the tinnitus is one of the biggest concerns for people because it can be loud and impact them while sleeping or trying to concentrate.
How Can I Confirm if I Have a Balance Disorder?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms explained in this article, then you should seek medical help from your doctor.
Not only are some of the symptoms debilitating, but they may be due to a serious medical problem. Your doctor will ask you questions to determine if the issue is related to your vestibular system. If so, a balance disorder can be identified through a variety of tests conducted by an audiologist, including:
- Hearing Test: As many balance issues are associated with hearing, this is a logical place to start.
- MRI or CT Scans: These types of tests are commonly used to identify any medical problem that could be the source of the symptoms.
- Heart and Blood Pressure Tests.
- Electronystagmography (ENG) and Videonystagmography (VNG): Electrodes or cameras are used to document eye movement. Unusual patterns of eye movement can isolate problems in the vestibular system.
- Dix-Hallpike Manoeuvre: This type of test requires your head to be manipulated to observe changes to eye movements that indicate your perception of movement.
- Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials Test (VEMP): This test measures your reaction to sounds.
Are Balance Disorders Treatable?
Yes. Once tests have been performed and identified the reason and location of the problem, treatment can begin. The type of treatment will depend on the root cause of the problem, but the most common treatments include:
- Diet & Lifestyle Changes: By managing stress, reducing alcohol, caffeine and salt intake, it can address symptoms associated with Meniere’s Disease, tinnitus, migraines and postural hypertension.
- Physical Manipulation: By physically manipulating the head, it can reposition the dislodged crystals in the case of BPPV.
- Vestibular Rehabilitation: This type of rehabilitation addresses physical issues with balance, walking, bending over, sitting and standing. It’s performed by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist and is tailored to the individual’s needs.
- Surgery: When there is a medical problem, such as an acoustic neuroma or recurrent ear infection, surgery may be required.
- Medication: To address the cause of a problem such as an infection or to manage symptoms such as nausea, medication may be required.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s strongly recommended that you avoid driving or walking unaided and seek medical advice without delay.
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