Balancing Act (part 1)

Have you ever been walking and suddenly lost your balance and stumbled? That’s probably one of the few times when you actually think about your ability to balance.

While it may seem simple, all you have to do is stand up and then stay standing, it turns out that balancing is quite complex. There is a complicated group of things working together inside your body to keep you standing upright.

Balance System

As your Boone audiologist explains it, your balance system relies on your inner ear as well as how your brain processes what it feels and sees.

Your eyes tell your body what it sees (are you lying down or standing up) and your sensory system, which includes your skin, muscles and joints, tells your body what it feels (are you leaning against a desk or are you floating in water).

Balance Issue in BooneYour Inner Ear’s Role in Balance

Next is the inner ear, which plays a surprisingly important role in the balance system. The inner ear contains three semicircular canals filled with fluid called endolymph. Each semicircular canal lies at a different angle and is responsible for a different movement: up-and-down, side-to-side and tilting from one side to the other.

Every head movement you make causes the fluid inside the canals to also move. When the fluid moves, it triggers the small hairs that line the canals (called cilia) to move as well, which then send an electrical impulse to the brain. The brain processes these impulses and determines how your body is moving.

The semicircular canals provide your brain with helpful information, but only while you are moving. If you are standing still, that is where the utricle and the saccule come in. The utricle and the saccule are a group of sensory nerves located within the inner ear. The utricle is sensitive to changes in horizontal movement (the tilt of your head). The saccule is sensitive to the change in vertical acceleration, such as going up in an elevator.

As with everything related to hearing, everything is fine when it is working. But what happens if something goes wrong? That is where your Boone audiologist comes in. If you are having trouble with your balance or feeling like you are spinning or falling, contact your Boone audiologist to schedule an appointment.

Come back next week for part two! We’ll explain what can go wrong and what you can do about it.