Relationship Between Hearing And Balance

Our bodies are incredible things, and the ways different systems play into each other are endless. In fact, did you know that one of these relationships is between hearing and balance? First, let’s discuss how we hear and learn about the system responsible for keeping us balanced.

Our ears can be broken up into three sections, the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Soundwaves first travel through the outer ear until they reach the eardrum, which then bounces these sound vibrations through the middle ear (ossicles) into the inner ear (cochlea). This allows us to recognize sounds and communicate with one another. Now for the balance piece, the vestibular system is responsible for sending signals to our brain with a variety of information ranging from motion, to head position, to spatial orientation. While recognizing all this information, it is also responsible for helping us with our motor functions such as balance, stabilization and maintaining equilibrium.

So how does hearing and balance play hand in hand? Many balance issues actually stem from issues within the inner ear, whether temporary or permanent. Balance issues can result in a range of symptoms from vertigo to dizziness. In less common cases, balance disorders can be caused by head injury, but we won’t get into that today.

Types Of Balance Disorders

There are many different balance disorders, so today we’ll touch on five of the most common; Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, Meniere’s Disease, Vestibular neuronitis, age-related dizziness and imbalance, and migraine-associated vertigo.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is the most common form of vertigo that makes you feel like either you or your head is spinning. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is usually brought on by a change of position (lying down to standing up, rolling over in bed), causes moderate to intense dizziness (including loss of consciousness in the most extreme cases) and typically lasts a minute or less.

Meniere’s Disease occurs when there is an abnormal amount of fluid in the cochlea that causes vertigo, hearing loss, and/or tinnitus in one or both ears. Although Meniere’s Disease is most prevalent in young to middle-aged adults, it can occur anytime throughout your life. Meniere’s Disease can be tricky to diagnose because symptoms may decrease in frequency or even all together after an episode.

Vestibular Neuronitis is a disease most commonly found in adults affecting the inner ear nerve, vestibulocochlear nerve, by disrupting balance and head position information to the brain due to a swollen nerve. Common symptoms include vertigo, balance issues, nausea, and concentration difficulties, but typically subside after a few days.

Age-related dizziness and imbalance usually presents itself in older adults as inner ear function degrades as a result of the aging process. Although age-related dizziness and imbalance isn’t always indicative of an underlying medical issue, it can pose a greater fall risk to our older generation.

Migraine-associated vertigo is you guessed it, vertigo caused by the onset of a migraine. In fact, according to the American Migraine Foundation, 30% – 50% of individuals dealing with migraines will experience some form of dizziness or vertigo during their migraine ranging from a few hours up to three or four years. In younger children, bouts of vertigo can signal an onset of migraines into their teen and adult years.

How Are Balance Disorders Evaluated

Three different methods to evaluate and diagnose balance disorders are audiologic testing, videonystagmography (VNG) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).  Common audiologic tests include pure-tone and bone conduction testing, which test for abnormalities in the outer, middle, and inner ear. Videonystagmography tests the inner ear and parts of the brain by analyzing involuntary eye movements that may be indicative of balance disorders. Magnetic Resonance Imaging works similar to VNG as it looks for traces of jerky eye movements when a magnetic pull is taken close to the ear.

Have you been experiencing dizziness, vertigo and imbalance but don’t know what brought it on? Click here to schedule an appointment at our office nearest you to get the answers you need to live the balanced life you deserve.

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