Picture taking a cruise and instantly getting seasick. It could take the fun out of everything, right? And when you get back on land, you still feel a little seasick for a while.
What if you felt like this all of the time? When you have certain balance problems, it can feel just like that. And balance problems, similar to that seasickness, can take the fun out of everything.
These balance symptoms may come and go or they might be more persistent. It will be easier to figure out what the cause of your balance problems is, and how to best manage it after you have some testing done.
How are balance problems caused?
You have fluid inside your ears. That’s it, that’s how balance works! You have a little bit of fluid in a specialized part of each inner ear, and your brain utilizes information from this fluid to figure out your body’s orientation. When everything is normal, this all works great!
So when you begin to encounter symptoms of balance problems, you might start thinking about what could trigger balance issues in the first place. In most cases, your ear, brain, or both are to blame. Here are a few of the most prevalent causes:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): With this condition, dizziness and vertigo can result from specific head positions or movements. An episode of vertigo hits you when you move your head in a certain way.
- Meniere’s disease: Meniere’s disease is a condition of the inner ear that is distinguished by bouts of vertigo, tinnitus, and ear pressure. Normally, Meniere’s disease begins in one ear then moves to the second, eventually leading to loss of hearing.
- Vestibular neuritis: This is inflammation of the inner ear. An infection is usually the cause and the outcome is temporary vertigo, dizziness, and balance issues. Symptoms will normally go away when the infection subsides.
- Migraines: A large number of symptoms can be related to these severe headaches, including problems with balance. These balance issues will normally disappear when the migraine clears.
- Head injuries: From minor concussions to more severe head injuries and brain trauma, dizziness and vertigo can frequently be a result. The severity of the head injury can frequently impact the duration and intensity of the balance issues.
- Side-effects from medication: Various medications can create side effects that result in dizziness and vertigo. Usually, when you discontinue using those medications, the symptoms will diminish. Before you quit taking any prescription medication, contact your provider.
This list isn’t complete, of course. Your provider will have to do special testing in order to figure out what’s causing your balance problems.
Testing for inner ear issues
Your provider might look at your inner ear first when you initially experience your balance issues. As the name implies, your inner ear isn’t really easy to reach. These assessments aren’t intrusive or unpleasant, fortunately. Here are a few of the tests you might expect:
- Audiometry: You can think of audiometry as a normal hearing assessment. The only thing it does is figure out how well you’re able to hear simple sounds at different wavelengths. If there’s a problem with your hearing, this will help identify it.
- Tympanometry: Your eardrums are vital to your ears operating properly. In order to establish how well your eardrums are moving, a tympanometric is necessary. A little probe (that looks like a headphone) is put in your ear, then, small puffs of air are directed at your eardrum. The test measures the resulting movement of your eardrums, and can then help figure out whether your ear is healthy.
- Videonystagmography or balance testing (ENG): It may help to think of this test as working indirectly with your ears. You wear specialized goggles. These goggles track the movement of your eyes, helping to identify where your balance problems are arising from. If something is really off with your balance, this test will help verify it.
- Electrocochleography (ECOG): The amount of electrical energy created by your cochlea (part of your inner ear) is measured by this test. Meniere’s disease is diagnosed utilizing this ECOG test.
- Brainstem auditory evoked response audiometry (BAER, BSER): Your brainwave activity is monitored by this test. Basically, your hearing is triggered and your brain’s response is measured. If the activity isn’t what’s anticipated, there may be a problem with the inner ear, how your brain and ears are communicating, or with your hearing more broadly.
- Vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMP) and Auditory brainstem response (ABR): These two tests can sense electrical activity. Generally, you’ll have a couple of little electrodes positioned against your skin (typically on your head), and they’ll help determine how well signals are going from your brain to your ears and back again.
Your overall health and your symptoms will determine which one of these tests is right for your situation. Generally speaking, your provider will be able to identify when you need a basic screening or when a more objective test might be required.
How are balance problems dealt with?
Once you’ve identified the cause of your balance issues, your provider will be in a better position to offer reliable treatment. Sometimes, therapies will be fairly simple. For example, if an ear infection is the cause of your dizziness, some antibiotics may be capable of helping. In other instances, more intense and continued interventions could be required.
A few of the most prevalent treatments for balance problems include the following:
- Medication: In certain cases, over-the-counter or prescription medication can help you manage and alleviate symptoms.
- Positioning Exercises: These exercises can help with some forms of vertigo. The Epley Maneuver is a prominent and often effective example.
- Lifestyle Modification: Symptoms can sometimes be minimized by a lifestyle change. As an example, you may be able to control your symptoms by quitting smoking or eating more fruits and veggies.
- Vestibular rehab: Your balance can be enhanced by these exercises and they might help prevent falls.
- Surgery: There are some situations where you will need to have an ENT perform surgery.
Your balance of power
Your day-to-day safety, not to mention your overall quality of life can be significantly affected by balance issues. If you’re unsteady because you are dizzy, it’s hard to walk around your house let alone drive. Once your ENT gets to the bottom of your balance problems, they will work towards an effective treatment.
You need to feel as if you’re back on dry land, so finding the cause of that continuous seasick feeling is the first step.