Balance disorders of the inner ear can be very unsettling, making you dizzy and unsteady. The inner ear, specifically the canals of an organ called the labyrinth, is important to controlling the sense of balance. The labyrinth reacts with the eyes and our muscular and skeletal systems to help us position ourselves.
Types of Inner Ear Balance Disorders
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is an intense incidence of vertigo that occurs when you change the position of your head. The actual cause is not known, but may be due to an inner ear infection, an injury to the head or simply aging.
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth due to infection. The labyrinth is composed of semicircular, fluid-filled canals that tell us when we’re moving in circles.
Meniere's disease is a problem with the fluid in the inner ear that causes balance problems, temporary hearing loss, ringing or roaring in the ears (tinnitus) and the sensation of fullness in the ear. The cause is unknown.
Vestibular neuronitis, a viral infection of the vestibular nerve in the inner ear, can cause balance problems. The vestibule in the inner ear is where the semicircular canals come together, near the cochlea (the organ responsible for hearing). The vestibular system works in conjunction with the brain and eyes to keep objects in focus when the body is in motion.
Vestibular migraine causes motion sickness and dizziness when quickly turning the head or when riding in a vehicle. It causes hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
Vestibular disorders are abnormalities of the inner ear that cause the sensation of motion and floating.
Perilymph fistula is a condition in which fluid in the inner ear leaks into the middle ear. This may occur after a head injury or physical exertion, or for no apparent reason.
Acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous growth on the acoustic nerve. It causes dizziness, hearing loss and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
When you have a inner ear balance disorder it is difficult to maintain your orientation. It may feel as if the room is spinning and you may not be able to walk or even stand up. Your vision may be blurred, you feel disoriented, feel like you're falling and even faint. Some people experience nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and changes in blood pressure and heart rate. Symptoms may occur and subside and last for long periods or short periods of time.
Causes of Inner Ear Balance Disorders
Inner ear balance disorders are caused by viral and bacterial infections, vascular disorders of the inner ear or of the brain (blood circulation problems), head injuries, medications and aging.
Treatment for balance problems of the inner ear focus on the disease or disorder that may be contributing to the condition, such as ear infections. Balance retraining may be recommended for some involving movement exercises for the head and body. For people diagnosed with Meniere's disease, dietary recommendations will be made to reduce sodium in the diet, alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. In some cases antibiotics and even surgery are recommended.
Diagnosis of a inner ear balance disorder can be complicated so you should always see a physician for an evaluation. You can first visit your primary care doctor but you may be referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist to help diagnose the reason for your imbalance. The kinds of tests that are used will vary based on your symptoms and health status.