The Inner Ear: A Tale of Two Systems

If you have balance problems, you’re not alone.

Balance disorders are real — they affect people the world over, including millions of people in North America — yet the problem seems invisible to many. Lean into Balance Awareness Week, and take steps to stay steady on your feet.

Balance Disorder Basics

Have you or a loved one had to cancel gatherings with friends or leave events early because of dizzy spells? Do others dismiss it with, “Everyone gets dizzy”? If only they could see what you feel. If only you had the support you need and a way to help others understand what you’re experiencing.

Get empowered with Balance Awareness Week, Sept. 13-19.

Every year during the third week in September, Balance Awareness Week helps raise awareness of vestibular or balance disorders, which can lead to falls or other problems and significantly affect quality of life. To help you understand vestibular disorders and take action for yourself or a loved one, let’s talk the basics.

What’s a Vestibular Disorder?
Balance and equilibrium are controlled by the body’s vestibular system, involving parts of the brain, eyes, inner ear, and sensory systems including skin, joints, and muscles. Damage or other changes to these functions that help support your sense of balance can lead to chronic problems.

What Are the Symptoms?

There is no classic set of symptoms, and each person experiences a vestibular disorder differently. However, some commonly reported symptoms include:

  • Dizziness. Feeling faint, light-headed, or unsteady.
  • Vertigo. A sense of movement when there is none, characterized by feeling like either you or the room are spinning.
  • Disequilibrium. Imbalance or loss of equilibrium, often accompanied by spatial disorientation.
  • Spatial disorientation. Inability to determine the body’s position in space, characterized by the need to touch or hold on to something when standing or walking, the need to look down to confirm where the ground is, or difficulty walking in the dark.
  • Hearing problems. Hearing loss, sound sensitivity, or tinnitus — sounds in the ears or head.
  • Vision problems. Difficulty tracking objects — words on a page, for example; discomfort in “busy” environments such as traffic, grocery stores, or walls with patterns; or sensitivity to lights, especially fluorescent ones.
  • Cognitive issues. Trouble concentrating, short-term memory lapses, inability to understand instructions, or an easily fatigued mind.

How Do I Get Diagnosed?

If your physician has ruled out other conditions but you experience recurring bouts of dizziness or prolonged feelings of imbalance, visit a hearing and balance professional — also known as an audiologist. Because vestibular disorders have many causes, your audiologist will use different tests:

  • Vestibular tests. These investigate the relationship between your eyes and vestibular system when your head is in motion. They involve either goggles, sensors, or both.
  • Hearing tests. These ensure proper functioning of your ear canal, middle and inner ears, and nervous system.

What Treatment Options Exist?

Different causes will require different treatments. Some potential approaches:

  • Vestibular retraining therapy (VRT). Professionally prescribed exercises designed to help the brain organize and coordinate information from the eyes, inner ear, and other balance-related organs to help you regain a sense of equilibrium and balance.
  • Nutrition adjustments. Some conditions may respond to modifications in diet.
  • Counseling. Lifestyle changes and the emotions that might accompany them can lead to the need for support.
  • Medication. Prescribed medications depend on how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms and how well you’re responding to VRT.
  • Surgery. Surgery depends on the cause of the vestibular problem and can take many forms.
An estimated 69 million people in the U.S. over 40 and over 6 million of that same age group in Canada will experience a vestibular issue in their lifetime. So don’t delay. If you or a loved one are having difficulty keeping good balance, schedule an evaluation with our caring team today.