We often take our sense of balance for granted, without giving a second thought to walking across a gravel driveway or rolling out of bed. Our balance is achieved by a combination of sensory input from sight, touch, and our ears (i.e., the vestibular system), which accounts for motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. Integrating that sensory and motor output into the eye and body muscles helps us maintain our balance.
Balance disorders are a result of a disturbance in the body’s balance system. Audiologists use specific methods to diagnose and treat balance disorders, with the goal of improving the patient’s balance completely. Technological advancements are making it easier to treat these disorders and learn more information about ear issues.
Signs and Types
Balance disorders are marked by difficulty maintaining balance, for either short or long periods of time. Sensations vary from a room spinning dizziness and staggered walk, to nausea, vomiting, fear, and anxiety. Feelings of stiffness and tiredness are also common, as the body tries to avoid natural movements in order to avoid feeling dizzy.
Various disorders affect the vestibular system, and they come in many forms. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) includes short episodes of dizziness and room spinning dizziness (i.e., vertigo) that occur with different head and body movements. Feelings of dizziness and the ear are connected, which is why these brief and intense episodes are triggered by a specific change in head/body movements. The labyrinth is an intricate structure in the inner ear, and inflammation or infection may cause labyrinthitis and/or vestibular neuritis. A person with this disorder may experience dizziness or loss of balance.
Meniere’s disease, although rare, also affects the inner ear as well, causing unilateral (or one-sided) hearing loss, pressure, tinnitus, and vertigo. Although its cause is still unknown, physicians report it could be associated with a change in fluid volume in parts of the labyrinth.
People can be affected by any one balance disorder, and it can be frustrating and scary to deal with alone.
Need to Know: vHIT
One of the latest technological tools for assisting in diagnosing balance disorders is video head impulse test, or vHIT. vHIT is a non-invasive test that requires the patient to wear small video goggles. With these on, audiologists can examine each of the six semicircular canals in the inner ear and the integrity of cranial nerve VIII. The audiologist moves the patient’s head to stimulate each canal, and the goggles measure the discreet eye movements, which are recorded on the computer diagnostic system. The results indicate how well the semicircular canals work—critical to balance control.
Use of this special test along with a battery of other advanced assessments allows a look at how well each individual component of the inner ear functions to provide a better diagnosis for those who experience dizziness and balance symptoms. It can also be used to identify patients who suffered from stroke, concussion, and other head trauma. Combined with other testing, using vHIT allows for examination of every sensory organ in the ear to improve accuracy in diagnosis and treatment of dizziness and balance disorders.
Results are administered and interpreted by doctoral-level audiologists who have at least two years of training in both administration and interpretation of these disorders.
How Associated Audiologists Can Help You
The best way to manage balance disorders is by visiting the experts. A doctoral-level audiologist will be able to help diagnose and sometimes treat an underlying ear issue.
If you’re dizzy or off balance, call Associated Audiologists today to book an appointment with our doctoral-level specialist in dizziness and imbalance.