A balance disorder is a complex condition that causes feelings of unsteadiness, wooziness and sensations of spinning, moving or floating. Part of the inner ear known as the labyrinth interacts with other body systems like the eyes, bones and joints to maintain balance. Problems within the vestibular (ear), brain or nervous systems can cause balance problems, which affect over 2 million people each year.
When any of these systems are impaired, you may experience symptoms of a balance disorder. These symptoms can include:
- Motion sickness
- Blurry vision
More common symptoms like nausea, vomiting, faintness, anxiety and panic can also occur.
Balance disorders are often the result of another medical condition which may be minor or severe. These conditions usually affect either the visual, vestibular or general sensory system or the brain. Some of these causes can include infections, injuries, blood circulation disorders, medications and aging.
Diagnosing a balance disorder can be a complicated procedure. Since dizziness and vertigo are symptoms of so many conditions, it is hard to pinpoint the exact cause. Your doctor may perform a series of audiologic, vestibular and movement tests depending on your symptoms. Identifying the underlying cause and the type of balance disorder are both important in successful treatment.
Some of the more common balance disorders include:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) - feelings of vertigo after specific position changes of the head
- Labyrinthitis - dizziness and loss of balance caused by an infection or inflammation of the inner ear
- Meniere's disease - vertigo, hearing loss and ringing in the ears caused by an inner ear fluid imbalance
- Vestibular neuronitis - vestibular nerve infection
- Perilymph fistula - inner ear fluid leakage caused by physical injury or exertion
Treatment for a balance disorder depends on its cause. Treating the underlying cause can eliminate balance problems for many people. For others, balance training exercises and life changes can help relieve symptoms. Surgery may be recommended for patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled by more conservative methods. Managing these complex conditions requires staying informed and working together with your doctor in order to receive effective treatment.