A balance disorder is a condition marked by the symptoms of feeling unsteady or dizzy. Even while standing, lying or sitting still, a person with a balance disorder will feel as if they are moving, spinning or floating. While walking, people may feel as if they are tipping over.
Primary symptoms include dizziness or a spinning sensation (vertigo), falling or feeling as if you are going to fall, lightheadedness, faintness, a floating sensation, blurred vision, confusion or disorientation. Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, fear and anxiety or panic attacks.
These disorders can be caused by anything that affects the inner ear or the brain such as medications, ear infections or head injuries. The risk for balance disorders increases as people get older.
What Are the Most Common Balance Disorders?
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) involves brief but intense periods of vertigo that are triggered by specific changes in head position. It occurs when tiny crystals in the otolith organs become dislodged and migrate to the semicircular canals.
- Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition that causes episodic vertigo, tinnitus, fullness in the ear and fluctuating hearing loss that may eventually become permanent. Meniere’s is usually confined to one ear and though its cause is unknown it may be the result of abnormal fluid buildup in the inner ear.
- Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear usually caused by an infection. Its symptoms include vertigo, temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Migraine related vertigo can occur before the onset of a headache, during a headache or on its own. Many patients who experience migraines actually experience dizziness or vertigo as their primary symptom. Vertigo is also a common symptom of basilar migraines, also known as Bickerstaff syndrome.
- Vestibular neuronitis is disease of the vestibular nerve that causes severe episodes of vertigo. The vestibular nerve is responsible for sending messages from the inner ear to the brain. If the vestibular nerves in each ear are sending different signals, the result is an inability to feel balanced.
How Are Balance Disorders Treated?
In order to determine the appropriate treatment plan for you, your audiologist will need to evaluate and diagnose your symptoms. Once determined, your audiologist will target the underlying condition in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Options include:
- Medications (antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics or steroids).
- Physical or occupational therapy.
- Repositioning exercises.
- Vestibular retraining programs.
- Lifestyle modifications (such as dietary changes and elimination of alcohol and nicotine).