We often talk about the difficulty of eating a balanced diet and the struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Both of those require a conscious effort, but when it comes to the actual ability to balance our bodies as we go about our day, we don’t even really have to think about it most of the time.
Our balance is the result of several systems working together to interpret spatial data. Our brain relies on information from sight, proprioception and the vestibular system to keep us upright. Proprioception is “the ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium”, according to Medicine.net. The vestibular system is the leading supplier of information necessary to our sense of balance and, along with the cochlear, makes up the labyrinth of the inner ear.
When these systems are working well, we walk, sit, stand, drive and go about our business happily unencumbered. However, when there is a glitch, our sense of balance can be completely thrown off and our ability to move well may be hampered. Balance disorders can be caused by a virus, bacteria, structural defect, injury, tumor, visual impairment or circulatory issue. Given the complexity of the system, the cause can often remain a mystery.
There are many, many conditions that can cause loss of balance and dizziness. Here are five of the most common ones:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a buildup of tiny calcium particles in the inner ear canals. This clogging up interferes with the inner ear’s ability to send information to the brain. Physical therapy can often dislodge the calcium particles which will then be absorbed by the body.
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of one, or both, of the vestibular nerves of the inner ear that causes dizziness, nausea and loss of balance. It is often caused by viral or bacterial infections and will usually start to subside after a few intense days of imbalance.
Ménière’s disease occurs when there’s a change in the amount of fluid in the labyrinth and may result in dizziness, nausea, irregular hearing loss, and a ringing or buzzing in the ear (tinnitus). The irregular hearing loss can sometimes become permanent. The cause is unknown and there is no treatment for the disease, but there are some options to address the symptoms.
Perilymph fistula is the result of an unusual opening in the ear with allows fluid to leak from the inner ear into the middle ear. People with perilymph fistula may experience dizziness, nausea, and increased unsteadiness after physical exertion. It can be caused by a head injury, drastic changes in atmospheric pressure, congenital defect or chronic ear infections. Surgery may be required if the symptoms are severe and persistent.
Mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is a rare balance disorder that usually happens after an ocean cruise. Someone with MdDS will feel like they’re rocking or bobbing, even while sitting still. Most often, this syndrome goes away on its own within days of getting back on land.
Persistent dizziness can be a difficult symptom to manage and requires medical intervention. If you experience severe dizziness or sudden, unexplained hearing loss, seek medical attention quickly. If you have concerns about general hearing loss or other mild hearing-related symptoms, schedule a consultation with us.