Maintaining Good Balance—It’s Complicated

Balance disorders are common. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), about 15 percent of American adults are impacted by a balance disorder.

Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or a problem in the inner ear or the brain. A balance disorder can make it difficult to do everything from getting out of bed in the morning to walking across a gravel driveway.

According to the American Hearing Research Foundation, our sense of balance starts with critical information being fed to the brain for processing. Three key body systems are responsible for this:

  • Visual (eyes) –Our eyes provide information about our surroundings and read things like the distance and depth between our body, for example, and the external physical environment that lies ahead.
  • Somatosensory (sensory receptors found throughout the body)— The somatosensory system is the network of neural structures in the brain and body that produce the perception of touch, as well as temperature, body position (proprioception), and pain. The somatosensory system also helps with balance by keeping track of the orientation of the body and its limbs. This enables people to know instinctively where to place their arms, legs, hands, and feet while walking, running, driving, eating, and engaging in other everyday activities—without needing to consciously think about it.
  • Vestibular (inner ear)—Most balance disorders are linked to the vestibular system, which is contained within the labyrinth of the inner ear. The semi-circular canals and the otolith organs (the utricle and saccule) are the specific organs of the inner ear that must function properly for people to be able to maintain their sense of balance.

When any one of these systems isn’t working correctly and in coordination with the others, it can impact a person’s ability to balance, often causing symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo, vision disturbances, nausea, fatigue and difficulty concentrating.

Determining the source of the problem can sometimes be complicated, but often starts with evaluation of the inner ear and the vestibular system.

Danielle Dorner, Au.D., and David Paul, Au.D., are doctoral-level audiologists with Associated Audiologists, and are two of the specialists in this region in vestibular disorders. They utilize state-of-the-art equipment and a number of inner ear balance tests to diagnose dizziness and balance problems. Testing often includes:

  • Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
  • Electro-oculography
  • Video Head Impulse Test (vHIT)
  • Rotary Chair
  • Sensory Organization Performance (SOP)
  • Electrocochleography (ECOG)
  • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP)
  • Video/Electro-nystagmography (VNG/ENG)

Dr. Dorner and Dr. Paul use the results of these tests to either treat the condition, such as with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), or if they cannot treat the patient, they refer them to the appropriate medical specialist for further evaluation and treatment.

In the case of BPPV, the most common cause of dizziness and balance problems, 95% of patients can be successfully treated.

So, if you are experiencing dizziness and balance problems, schedule an appointment with one of our vestibular audiologists.

For more information about dizziness and balance disorders, download our free e-book today.