As we discussed in the last blog post, our balance system is made up of our inner ear and what we see and feel. This week, we will discuss what happens if something goes wrong.
Causes of Balance Disorders
Countless things can cause a balance disorder: medications, head injury or a change in the inner ear. The most common changes in the inner ear are:
- Displacement of structures in the inner ear (positional vertigo)
- Inflammation of the inner ear (labyrinthitis)
- Change in fluid volume in the inner ear (Ménière’s disease)
- Inflammation of a nerve in the inner ear (vestibular neuronitis)
These disorders can cause anything from short episodes of dizziness to an intense sensation of spinning (vertigo). The feelings that you are going to fall, lightheadedness, blurred vision and confusion usually also occur. Vertigo is often the most incapacitating of these symptoms, as it can last anywhere from a few minutes or for more than a few hours.
In order to treat these symptoms, your trusted Boone audiologist will work with you to figure out the cause.
The first phase of testing will be a physical exam. Your Boone audiologist will watch you walk in a straight line and then ask you to turn quickly; this will measure your balance and movement control. Your head and eye movement will be assessed; this can be done by measuring how fast you can switch your gaze from one object to another or how long you can keep your gaze fixed on an object while moving your head back and forth. To test how well your cerebellum (part of your brain that controls balance and movement) in functioning, your doctor will ask you to move your arms and legs in a specific way or reach out and touch objects with your finger.
A hearing test will be performed next. If you are experiencing some hearing loss it is a good indication that your balance issues are stemming from a problem with the inner ear. In addition to treating your balance disorder, your audiologist will provide you with the best hearing aids for your type and degree of hearing loss.
The last round of testing will be of your eye movements. This lets your doctor know if you are having trouble seeing clearly while moving or if objects appear to be moving when they are not. A nystagmography measures how well you can follow objects with your eyes. Electrodes (ENG) or infrared video (VNG) are used to measure your eye movements. A posturography is used to measure how well you are able to maintain your balance while standing on a moveable platform in a room full of walls displaying moving patters. This test is able to isolate specific sensory information so your doctor can try to pinpoint where the problem is coming from. Imaging such as CAT scans and a MRI may be performed in order to make sure all the structures and nerves inside your head are functioning normally.
As you can see, figuring out what is causing your balance disorder is complicated. This is why your trusted Boone audiologist is the best person to meet with if you are experiencing any of these problems.