May is Better Hearing Month, and what better way to commemorate it than by taking the time to learn all about the functions of your ears? They aren’t just for hearing, you know. In fact, the inner ear is greatly responsible for your sense of balance. Read on to find out how then download our free handout that explains even more.
Inside your ear is a structure known as the “labyrinth,” so named because it resembles a maze. Within this labyrinth is an intricate system of canals and otolith organs known as the saccule and the utricle that enable us to perceive linear acceleration both horizontally and vertically. Together, these canals and otolith organs are known as the vestibular system, which governs our sense of balance and spatial orientation that in turn, enables us to coordinate our movements properly. The system is a delicate one, and when something goes wrong, it often will affect a person’s sense of balance and therefore, their movements, which can lead to falls and injury.
Inner Ear Conditions
Some conditions of the inner ear that can lead to balance problems are ear infections, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), Meniere’s Disease, and Vestibular System Degeneration. Ear infections usually occur as the result of a viral infection. Even after the infection has passed, sustained damage to the vestibular system can lead to balance problems. BPPV is thought to be caused by small calcium crystals within the inner ear moving from the part of the ear that senses gravity to the part that senses head position. BPPV might occur for no apparent reason, or after a head injury, ear surgery, and/or in conjunction with another inner ear condition, such as Meniere’s.
Meniere’s Disease is a somewhat mysterious and fairly rare condition. However, it is thought to be caused by pressure changes of inner ear fluid. The cause is unknown, and both symptoms and severity can vary widely between patients. Vestibular System Degeneration happens to many of us simply with age. The fine hairs lining the inner ear canals degenerate with time, resulting in diminished spatial awareness and balance.
Symptoms of these conditions include dizziness, vertigo, lack of balance and coordination, nausea, and diminished hearing. Besides being unpleasant and taking away from the quality of life, there is a very real possibility of injury due to falling owing to these symptoms, especially for older people. Thankfully, there are several ways to help avoid the hazards of falling.
Tips to Prevent Falls
1. Live on one level, if possible. Stairs can be treacherous to those with balance problems.
2. Use appropriate lighting, including night lights all over the house at night.
3. Keep floors clear of clutter.
4. Install grab bars in places such as bathrooms and handrails where needed.
5. Wear proper footwear, even indoors. That means no flip-flops or slippers without backs.
6. Store things you often need within easy reach, so you aren’t teetering on step stools or ladders.
Of course, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should also contact us at Clarity Hearing right away so you can be tested, diagnosed, and given the information you need to get back to your old self again. Don’t let inner ear dysfunction put you on the bench in the game of life!
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.