Did you know that your ears do more than simply help you to hear?
In addition to allowing you to experience a world of sound, your ears help you to balance. With the help of your ears, your brain can process and receive signals that allow you to maintain a steady posture and focus.
Unfortunately, if your inner ears are damaged, your ability to balance may be impacted as well. As a result, you may begin experiencing symptoms like dizziness or blurred vision. In many instances, it may appear like the room is spinning, which can cause you to experience additional symptoms, like nausea or anxiety.
If these symptoms sound familiar, there’s a chance that you have a balance disorder. With the variety balance disorders out there, there are several treatment options available. But if you are experiencing hearing loss alongside these symptoms, research suggests that wearing hearing aids may help.
In the following, we will discuss balance disorders, their causes, treatments, and finally, how they are connected to hearing loss.
What is a Balance Disorder?
Every year, over 30 million people in the United States are diagnosed with a balance disorder. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, a balance disorder is “a condition that makes you feel unsteady or dizzy.” Common symptoms include:
- dizziness or vertigo
- feeling as if you are floating or falling
- the inability to walk in a straight line
- blurred vision
- feeling disoriented
In addition to these symptoms, one may also experience nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, anxiety, panic, fatigue, depression, and the inability to focus.
These symptoms often occur off and on, for short to longer periods of time. While these symptoms may be frustrating to experience, they are rarely signs of a more serious condition.
What Causes a Balance Disorder?
Most balance disorders can be attributed to damage or problems with the inner ear or brain. This is because the inner ear and brain work together to help you balance. When one fails to function properly, you may begin experiencing symptoms of a balance disorder, and here’s why.
Inside your ear is the vestibular system, which is responsible for signaling your brain when your head rotates or tilts. These signals are necessary for your body to maintain balance when walking or running, as well as maintain visual focus. When these signals malfunction, your brain will fail to know when or how the position of your body is changing. As such, you will not be able to maintain a steady position or focus.
Several factors can impact one’s inner ear or brain and, thereby, cause one to experience a balance disorder. With age, one’s chances of acquiring such a disorder increase. However, age is not the only potential risk factor. Other risk factors may include but are not limited to:
- Viral or bacterial ear infections
- Ménière’s disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Head injuries
- Blood circulation disorders (e.g. low blood pressure)
- Problems with the visual system (e.g. eye muscle imbalance)
- Problems with the skeletal system (e.g. arthritis)
- Ototoxic medications (e.g. aspirin)
Although these are the most common causes, many people acquire balance disorders with no obvious cause.
How are Balance Disorders Treated?
While the symptoms of balance disorders may seem minimal, they have the potential to significantly impact your daily life. As a result, many hope to seek treatment for a balance disorder. Treatment often varies case to case, however, as it is dependent on the underlying cause of the disorder.
Some of the most common treatments include:
- Vestibular rehabilitation therapy - Because the vestibular system controls your balance, some cases call for therapy designed to retrain your brain to properly receive and process signals from the inner ear.
- Canalith repositioning maneuvers (AKA the Epley Maneuver) - In other cases, the balance disorder is caused by particles or deposits in the inner ear. In these instances, a therapist can ‘reposition’ the particles by maneuvering the person’s head in specified patterns.
- Changes in diet - Changes in one's diet may help to reduce the symptoms in certain cases, particularly if the underlying cause is Ménière’s disease or a blood circulation disorder.
- Medication - Some underlying conditions can be treated with the help of antibiotics. In most cases, medication can be used to ease symptoms of the disorder itself, including vertigo and nausea.
- Surgery - Certain underlying causes, like Ménière’s disease or acoustic neuroma, may call for surgical intervention. Surgery is often a last resort and is typically performed to improve inner ear function.
These are only a few of the potential treatment options available. If you feel you may have a balance disorder, consider seeking attention from your primary care doctor. Your doctor can run the necessary tests to determine the cause of your symptoms and select the appropriate treatment.
How are Balance Disorders and Hearing Loss Connected?
As of today, research has yet to identify hearing loss as a risk factor for acquiring a balance disorder. However, in 2016, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explored the relationship between hearing loss and balance in a study.
The study revealed that senior individuals with hearing loss were twice as likely to fall as compared to those without it. While the study did not find that hearing loss can lead to a balance disorder, the results show that hearing loss can impact one’s balance.
That being said, balance disorders often involve issues with the inner ear. In this way, hearing loss has a strong chance of occurring alongside, or as a result of, a balance disorder. By identifying the underlying cause of your balance disorder, you may be able to determine how it affects your hearing.
What if You have Hearing Loss and a Balance Disorder?
As mentioned previously, to determine if you have balance disorder, the first step you should take is to visit your doctor. Since these disorders often involve inner ear issues, you may want to visit your local ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor. Your ENT can work to identify and treat the underlying cause of the disorder. If you are experiencing hearing problems, your ENT can also conduct a hearing test to identify your hearing loss.
If you are diagnosed with a balance disorder and hearing loss, you may also benefit from purchasing hearing aids. In 2014, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis published a study assessing the balance of senior hearing aid wearers. Participants’ performed significantly better when wearing hearing aids than when not wearing hearing aids.
At Advanced Affordable Hearing, we can help you to select the appropriate hearing aids for you loss. By pre-programming our hearing aids to the most common hearing losses, we’re able to keep our prices low. That way, you can hear better at a price you can afford.
To start your journey to improved hearing today, contact us now!