Imagine taking a cruise and instantly getting seasick. That could really spoil a nice day. And there’s always that adjustment period when you get back on land where you can still feel the sway of the ship underneath your feet.
Now imagine it’s like that nearly all of the time, even when there’s no boat. When you have specific balance issues, it can feel just like that. And balance problems, much like that seasickness, can take the fun out of everything.
In some cases, these balance problems are temporary or ebb and flow, in others, symptoms may persist. Testing to determine the cause of the balance issues you have can help you find more effective, longer-lasting treatments.
How are balance problems brought about?
Your ears contain fluid inside them. This is the exact mechanism that makes balance function. You have a tiny bit of fluid in a specialized part of each inner ear, and your brain utilizes information from that fluid to determine your body’s orientation. Usually, this works pretty effectively!
So when you start to experience symptoms of balance problems, you might start wondering what could cause balance problems in the first place. In most cases, your ear, brain, or both are the culprit. Some of the most prevalent causes include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): This is a condition in which sudden movements of the head or certain positions of the head can trigger feelings of dizziness and vertigo. An episode of vertigo strikes you when you move your head in a specific way.
- Meniere’s disease: Bouts of tinnitus, vertigo, and ear pressure characterize the symptoms of this condition. Normally, Meniere’s disease starts in one ear then moves to the second, eventually leading to loss of hearing.
- Vestibular neuritis: When you have inflammation of the inner ear, it’s called vestibular neuritis. An infection is usually the cause and the result is temporary vertigo, dizziness, and balance issues. Symptoms will normally go away when the infection subsides.
- Migraines: These extreme headaches can result in a large number of symptoms, one of which is balance issues. These balance issues will usually disappear when the migraine goes away.
- Head injuries: From minor concussions to more profound head injuries and brain trauma, dizziness and vertigo can frequently be an outcome. The intensity and duration of the balance issues will greatly be determined by the severity of the head injury.
- Side-effects from medication: Dizziness and vertigo can be the side effects of some medications. Those symptoms will typically recede when you stop taking the medication. Talk to your provider before you stop using any prescription medications.
Of course, this isn’t a complete list. In order to identify what the cause of your balance problems is, your provider will need to perform specially developed testing.
Testing for inner ear issues
Your provider might look at your inner ear first when you initially experience your balance problems. As the name implies, your inner ear isn’t exactly easy to get to. These tests aren’t intrusive or unpleasant, fortunately. You could expect some of the following tests:
- Audiometry: You can think of audiometry as a normal hearing test. It tests to see how well you can hear different wavelengths of sound. Often, this can help identify if there’s an issue with your ears or your hearing health.
- Tympanometry: Your eardrums are critical to your ears working correctly. In order to establish how well your eardrums are moving, a tympanometric is needed. A small amount of air is directed into the eardrum by a little probe that looks like a headphone. The test measures the resulting movement of your eardrums, and can then help identify whether your ear is healthy.
- Videonystagmography or balance testing (ENG): It might help to think of this test as working indirectly with your ears. You wear specialized goggles. These goggles track the movement of your eyes, helping to identify where your balance problems are originating from. This can help determine that something is really off with your balance!
- Electrocochleography (ECOG): The amount of electrical energy created by your cochlea (part of your inner ear) is measured by this test. Meniere’s disease is diagnosed utilizing this ECOG test.
- Brainstem auditory evoked response audiometry (BAER, BSER): Your brainwave activity is monitored by this test. Basically, your hearing is triggered and your brain’s response is assessed. There may be a problem with your inner ear, or maybe your brain and ears aren’t communicating effectively, or if your brainwave activity is what would be expected, it could be a more broad hearing issue.
- Vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMP) and Auditory brainstem response (ABR): Electric activity is measured using these two tests. In general, you’ll have a couple of small electrodes placed against your skin (normally on your head), and they’ll help identify how well signals are going from your brain to your ears and back again.
Your general health and your symptoms will identify which one of these tests is correct for your circumstance. In general, your provider will be able to figure out when you need a simple screening or when a more objective test might be required.
How are balance problems managed?
Once you’ve established the reason for your balance issues, your provider will be better able to provide practical treatment. In some cases, therapies will be pretty simple. As an example, if an ear infection is the cause of your dizziness, some antibiotics might be capable of helping. More prolonged and intense intervention may be necessary in other circumstances.
Some of the most prevalent treatments for balance issues include the following:
- Medication: In some cases, over-the-counter or prescription medicine can help you control and reduce symptoms.
- Positioning Exercises: Specific types of vertigo can be treated using these exercises. One popular (and often effective) example is the Epley Maneuver.
- Lifestyle Modification: In some cases, modifying your lifestyle can help minimize your symptoms. As an example, you might be able to manage your symptoms by quitting smoking or eating a better diet.
- Vestibular rehab: These are exercises that can help sharpen your balance and, if successful, prevent falls.
- Surgery: In some cases, surgery done by an ENT may be needed to address certain balance problems.
Your balance of power
Your day-to-day safety, not to mention your overall quality of life can be seriously affected by balance issues. It’s difficult to drive, or even walk around your home when you feel dizzy and unstable. We will be able to get to the bottom of your balance issues and start working towards an efficient treatment.
You need to feel as if you’re back on dry land, so discovering the cause of that persistent seasick feeling is the first step.