Balance Disorders

A balance disorder makes you feel like you’re moving when you’re not. If you’re standing, sitting or lying down, you might experience a spinning or floating sensation. If you’re walking, you might feel like you’re about to tip over.

Symptoms may come and go or linger for a while, but either way, they impact your daily routine. Everyday activities such as driving, walking up or down the stairs, using the bathroom or exercising become difficult – even dangerous because you’re at a higher risk of falling.

Some symptoms are associated with inner ear problems, but others like light-headedness from standing too quickly, bending over, reaching for an upper cabinet, etc. can be related to a blood flow issue with your heart, or a condition in your neck or eyes.

The information below refers to common ear conditions causing balance problems and vertigo.

Types of Balance Disorders

Common types of balance disorders include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): intense period of vertigo caused by a specific change in the position of your head (head injury or sign of aging).
  • Labyrinthitis: infection or inflammation of the inner ear, many times associated with an infection like the flu.
  • Ménière’s disease (relatively rare): incidents of vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss and feeling like your ear is full. It may be caused by a change in the amount of fluid inside your ear.
  • Vestibular neuronitis: inflammation of the vestibular nerve caused by a virus.
  • Perimlymph fistula: creates the feeling of unsteadiness, dizziness and event nausea. Occurs when your inner ear fluid leaks into your middle ear.
  • Mal de Debarquement syndrome (MdDS): the sensation that you’re rocking or swaying like you’re on a cruise ship that continues after you’ve left the ship. This usually goes away after a few hours or days after being back on dry land.

Causes of Balance Disorders

The most common causes of balance disorders include:

  • Disturbances in your inner ear (viral or bacterial infections).
  • Changes in the nerves of the inner ear and the way the brain interprets those signals.
  • Systemic disorders (thyroid problems, effects of diabetes).
  • Blood flow issues (low blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia).

Symptoms of a Balance Disorder

If you have a balance disorder, you may experience some of these symptoms:

  • Dizziness or vertigo.
  • Falling or feeling like you’re about to fall.
  • Lightheadedness or faintness.
  • Blurry vision.
  • Confused or disoriented.

Less common signs of a balance disorder include nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, change in your heart rate or blood pressure or anxiety.

Treating Balance Disorders

Treatment of your balance disorder will depend on the cause and severity of your symptoms. Your doctor will do a thorough exam and ask you about your health history before determining whether you need medical testing.

One option is to treat the underlying health condition that’s triggering your balance disorder.

Another option is a series of exercises for balance disorders (vestibular rehabilitation). It includes specific movements of your head and body, designed to retrain your balance.

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