If the room is spinning and you didn’t just step off of a carnival ride, you’re likely quite concerned! Dizziness and imbalance are troubling symptoms that range from uncomfortable to disabling. We all experience brief periods of dizziness at times, triggered by illness, dehydration, or simply standing up too quickly. But intermittent or ongoing dizziness is a sign that something is amiss. Frightening symptoms like vertigo can be a threat to your independence and make you wary of leaving the house. What many people don’t know is that balance is tied closely to the workings of the inner ear. Our team of experienced audiologists can help you determine the cause of your imbalance and offer simple solutions to alleviate the discomfort. Take a look at common causes of dizziness and imbalance and what you can do to treat them.
How Your Ears Affect Balance
Your equilibrium is kept in check by a combination of sight, sound, and somatosensory perception. When all three are working together, your central nervous system maintains your center of gravity with help from your cerebellum. Your ears are part of your vestibular system, which includes joints, ears, eyes, and muscles. So, it makes sense that when one part of the system isn’t working correctly, other functions suffer as well.
Your inner ear, in particular, plays a leading role in maintaining balance. Three canals in your ear dictate equilibrium by sensing side-to-side, up-and-down, and tilting movements. Your inner ear is responsible for letting your brain know when that motion is out of sync via the movement of tiny hair cells and fluid in your ears. Balance issues can have many implications, including hearing loss.
Causes of Dizziness and Imbalance
Imbalance and dizziness are similar, but there are distinctions too. Dizziness often causes the sensation of lightheadedness or faintness. Whereas imbalance feels more like unsteadiness or a lack of center of gravity. Vertigo is identified by the uncomfortable feeling of spinning and an illusion of perceived movement. No matter which way you’re feeling, you know one thing- you want it to stop! The good news is these sensations have causes which your audiologist can help identify with simple, non-invasive tests.
Diseases That Cause Dizziness:
Otologic and ocular diseases, as well as cardiovascular, orthopedic, endocrinological, and neurological problems, can all have an impact on balance. Frustratingly, so can the medications used to treat some of these conditions. Here are some of the most common culprits.
Meniere’s Disease- Unpredictable bouts of vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus are hallmark symptoms of this inner ear disorder. A build-up of pressure or excess potassium in the inner ear causes intermittent attacks that include a feeling of ear fullness and can last for minutes or even hours. Hearing loss is the likely outcome of untreated Meniere’s Disease. Smoking, infections, and excess dietary sodium exacerbate symptoms, which typically start in one ear, but often spread to both. This disease can be chronic or lifelong, so early detection is key to preventing hearing loss.
Labyrinthitis- Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear or nerves that run from the ear to the brain. This infection occurs in the labyrinth, a part of your ear that controls balance, and is usually triggered by a cold or the flu. Dizziness is a telling symptom, along with nausea and hearing loss. A hearing professional best makes this diagnosis since it mirrors other conditions. It tends to be a short-term illness when appropriately managed.
Arteriosclerosis- Many people know that arteriosclerosis, or “hardening of the arteries,” occurs in the arteries, but they may not associate dizziness with the condition. A stiffening or thickening of arterial walls is common as people age, which restricts blood flow to the ears. High blood pressure, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, and poor nutrition are risk factors for developing arteriosclerosis. A hearing check is a quick way to see if your dizziness might be triggered by something like restricted blood flow.
Acoustic Neuroma- Fortunately, this brain tumor is a non-cancerous growth. But it develops slowly over several years, with no known cause, which makes it tough to diagnose. Symptoms include tinnitus, vertigo, hearing loss, and headaches, like many other illnesses, but the additional sign of difficulty swallowing helps in the diagnosis. Without treatment, hearing loss is progressive, so have your hearing checked soon if you suspect a neuroma.
Medications That Cause Dizziness:
Unfortunately, medicines to treat specific ailments can also cause dizziness or vertigo. The good news is, there are often alternatives to these drugs, so talk to your doctor if you develop dizziness after starting a new medicine. Some medications to pay attention to are: anticonvulsants, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs, muscle relaxants, nitroglycerin, pain relievers, and sleeping pills. Often times, dizziness is short-lived as you adjust to the medicine, but if symptoms persist, you may benefit from lifestyle changes or alternate medications.
Conditions That Cause Vertigo:
Vertigo can make you feel like your body is losing control, but take comfort, there are solutions for your symptoms. More than 90 million Americans deal with vertigo, but you don’t have to be stuck spinning in discomfort. Vertigo can cause everything from a spinning sensation, to light-headedness, to nausea and vomiting, to motion sickness or headaches. Additional risks with vertigo are balance-related falls and injuries sustained in the fall. Balance-related falls are implicated in over 50% of accidental deaths in older people. Take a look at some causes of vertigo to help eliminate your risk.
Vascular Vertigo- Similar to arteriosclerosis, vascular vertigo stems from inadequate blood supply to your ears. This type of vertigo occurs in as many as 25% of patients with migraines, but neurovascular compression, vasculitis, cerebrovascular disease, and cardiocirculatory disease are other contributing conditions. Meniere’s Disease is also a frequent cause of vascular vertigo.
Post-Traumatic Vertigo- An injury to the head or neck, such as whiplash or a fall can result in vertigo symptoms. Concussions are also commonly implicated in lingering dizziness and imbalance. Sometimes symptoms begin a while after the injury, so try to recall any accidents you have experienced. Even something as simple as bumping your head on a table can create swelling or pressure that throws off your vestibular balance.
Vestibular Neuronitis- This disorder is caused by inflammation of the vestibular nerve, a cranial nerve in the vestibule, which is a part of the inner ear that controls balance. It creates a sudden, severe attack of vertigo, and is most likely caused by a virus.
How to Treat Dizziness and Imbalance
Your body is a complex structure comprised of intricate systems working together for equilibrium. The vestibular system is one we often take for granted until we find ourselves out of balance. Many things contribute to dizziness or imbalance, and fortunately, ways to address them. Our team of professional hearing specialists can perform easy tests to diagnose the cause accurately. Whether you need a hearing device or medical consultation, we’ll help you determine how to eliminate your symptoms.
The relationship between balance and hearing is substantial, so if you experience symptoms of dizziness or hearing loss, seek the advice of a Doctor of Audiology. Your ears are the window into what could be out of sync in your body. At Clarity Hearing, we help you find the root of your balance issues and prevent unnecessary hearing loss. Contact us today to see how we can help!
Scott Marquardt is the owner of Clarity Hearing and a highly skilled audiologist who has been in practice for over 20 years. Dr. Marquardt earned a master’s degree in audiology from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and a doctorate from A.T. Still University. He is a member of the American Speech Language Hearing Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. He and the team offer comprehensive hearing healthcare services and specialize in the care of tinnitus, imbalance, and auditory processing disorders.