The Role of Ears in the Balance System

It’s amazing how your body’s balance system works! Your balance system helps you stand, walk, run, and move without falling.  This delicate balance all maintains itself through a constant process of position detection, feedback and adjustment using communication between the inner ear, eyes, muscles, joints and the brain. Deep within the ear, positioned just under the brain, is the inner ear. While one part of the inner ear enables hearing, another part, called the vestibular system, is designed to send information about the position of the head to the brain’s movement control center also known as the cerebellum.

The Cerebellum, the brain’s movement control center

The cerebellum is a key part of the brain though it’s small size. It’s positioned at the back of the head, where it meets the spine, which acts as the body’s movement and balance control center. The cerebellum receives messages about the body’s position from the inner ear, eyes, muscles and joints, and sends messages to the muscles to make any postural adjustments that are required to maintain balance. The cerebellum also coordinates timing and force of muscle movements initiated by other parts of the brain.

The Vesibular System

In short the vestibular system is comprised of several structures and tracts, but the main components of the system are found in the inner ear in a system of interconnected compartments called the vestibular labyrinth. These receptors send vestibular information to the cerebellum where the information is dispersed to different parts of your body including eyes, skin muscle and joints to work in harmony and maintain the body’s coordination.

Balance Testing

This abridged explanation is only the beginning of all the parts of the brain and body that work in harmony to help you keep your balance.  It’s no surprise that sometimes factors do not line up. If you do suffer from balance issues, you can get your balance tested to help figure out the cause of your problems. The tests can tell where the problems are in your ears. Your doctor can do some of the tests in an office or in the hospital. Other tests need special equipment that is in an audiology office or clinic. Dizziness and balance problems do not happen by themselves. They are symptoms of another problem

Common Diagnoses of Vertigo Symptoms

The vestibular function testing that is performed at an audiologist’s office searches for common causes of your symptoms including Meniere’s disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis

Meniere’s disease is associated with a buildup in fluid pressure inside the inner ear. In addition to attacks of vertigo, a patient can also experience fluctuating levels of hearing loss, tinnitus (ear ringing or roaring) and a sense of fullness in the affected ear.

BPPV results when crystals inside the ear become dislodged. Calcium crystals, normal structures in the inner ear, break loose and float into another part of the ear causing a spinning sensation.

Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis are disorders that result from an infection that can affect the transmission of sensory information from the ear to the brain. Symptoms can result in vertigo, dizziness, and balance, vision, and hearing issues.

Treatments for Balance Disorders

Treatment will depend on the diagnosis and can range from oral medications to physical therapy for balance retraining to surgical procedures. For some conditions, anti-nausea drugs may be prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of vertigo. Other patients will benefit from dietary adjustments such as a low-salt diet, or possibly surgical options to correct physical abnormalities associated with particular disorders. Many patients benefit from physical therapist directed vestibular rehabilitation therapies.

Pinpointing the source of a balance problem and coming up with an accurate diagnosis to put all the pieces together requires a thorough analysis of the patient’s medical history to evaluate all symptoms as well as comprehensive vestibular function testing.

Lifestyle Hearing Solutions

Hearing health specialists are here to help, if you have symptoms such as bouts of vertigo, lightheadedness, spinning, imbalance, unsteadiness, whirling, and difficulty walking while veering to one side or the other. These symptoms are disruptive to daily life and can impact your quality of life. If you’ve been struggling with a hearing condition, contact us at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions.  We can help you evaluate your hearing abilities and if a hearing loss is detected, we will help you get your life back into balance.