The relationship between Hearing and Balance
Experts estimate approximately 90 million Americans visit a doctor for a significant episode of dizziness or balance problems. Even more surprisingly, bouts of dizziness are the second most common patient complaint.
Although it’s a frequent or even “regular” issue, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.
If you experience a floating feeling, dizziness, vertigo or even a fainting spell, you should definitely see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) professional as soon as possible.
Why see an ENT? That’s because hearing and balance are extremely connected — if you’re experiencing dizziness, it may be related to inner ear issues.
How Do Balance and Hearing Connect?
If you’re wondering how hearing loss and balance relate, we’ll do our best to explain it to you here. It starts with how hearing affects balance altogether.
The inner ear actually has two sections: the cochlea and the vestibular system. The cochlea is responsible for hearing, while the vestibular section comprises a network of looped tubes that help our body maintain its balance.
The vestibular system uses activated sensory cells to detect movement as you tilt or move your head, and it’s extremely sensitive to even the smallest action.
For example, if it senses fast or prolonged movement, it can take a moment to settle back to stillness. This is why when you shake your head really quickly, come up suddenly from looking down or spin in circles, it can seem like the world continues to spin. You may experience lightheadedness after swiftly moving your head, too.
Because the vestibular system and the cochlea are so close, they share a nerve pathway to the brain — the vestibulocochlear nerve. This creates a direct connection, meaning if something happens to one part, then it can affect the other part as well.
Does Hearing Loss Affect Balance?
According to a John Hopkins study, people aged 40 to 69 who experienced mild hearing loss were three times more likely to report falling over the course of a year. With even poorer hearing, that risk increased.
So, does hearing loss affect balance for everyone? That’s not usually the case.
While balance ties directly to inner ear issues, you can experience hearing loss without it being related to balance. Hearing loss is often a natural part of the aging process.
What Balance Disorders Does the Inner Ear Cause?
Here are some of the most common balance disorders that inner ear issues trigger.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, occurs when calcium carbonate crystals become dislodged in the inner ear. When these crystals migrate into the endolymph fluid-filled semicircular ear canals, they disrupt normal movement and interrupt the inner ear’s ability to sense motion. When they move, people with BPPV experience brief but severe spinning sensations.
A rare disorder, Meniere’s disease occurs when the inner ear has dramatically increased pressure from a large amount of endolymph fluid. It can also happen when potassium exists in areas of the inner ear where it doesn’t belong. This can cause attacks of vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus and ear fullness (or the “plugged” sensation).
A viral infection, vestibular neuronitis affects the inner ear and the nerves connecting the inner ear canals to the brain. This inflammation disrupts sensory messages going from the ear to the brain and can cause vertigo, dizziness and difficulty balancing. These types of ear infections differ from the common bacterial infections that children tend to have around the ear drum.
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Seek Treatment With Dr. Matorin Today!
If you’re wondering whether hearing loss is causing your bouts of dizziness and balance issues, we can help. After all, hearing loss and balance issues are no fun — and a physician should address them.
Make an appointment today, and let’s get started!
Featured image via Unsplash