WHAT CAN CAUSE A BALANCE (VESTIBULAR) DYSFUNCTION
50% of balance problems are caused by vestibular or labyrinth dysfunction in the inner ear. A balance dysfunction can cause vertigo, unsteadiness, dizziness, disorientation, sensation of movement or rotation.
A healthy and normal balance system collects and delivers information from 3 different sources:
(1) The Labyrinths (right and left) in our ears
(2) Our Eyes
(3) Our Legs, Muscles and Joints
When all 3 agree between them, we can move our head and body feeling fine. When there is a conflict between these 3, symptoms of Dizziness etc are caused with particular movements.
HOW COMMON ARE BALANCE DIFFICULTIES
Balance dysfunction such as Vertigo, Dizziness, Unsteadiness are common difficulties encountered by 5-10% of people of all ages. When a person reaches 40 years of age, this percentage rises to 40%. The symptoms range from mild occasional unsteadiness to severe vertigo. Unsteadiness in third age is also very common.
MODERN METHODS FOR TESTING BALANCE
Video-Nystagmography and Calorics are modern methods to assess the labyrinth. Our Labyrinths should work symmetrically. If one works more or works less than the other, a balance problem may occur. The tests are painless and results tend to be immediate.
- If the results show a normal balance system and symptoms are not associated with the ear, then the patient is referred to his doctor for further investigation.
- If there is a dysfunction in the labyrinths, then we discuss the management options.
TREATING BALANCE PROBLEMS
The best and most effective treatment is through ‘Individualised Rehabilitation’. This is comprised of specific head, body and eye exercises, aiming to eliminate the symptoms by strengthening the balance system and enhancing confidence in movement. The audiologist will then review the patient after 4-5 weeks to measure the outcomes. The doctor may or may not prescribe medication along side it. In most cases eliminating coffee, salt, smoking, and alcohol can also significantly improve your balance.
If one suspects a balance problem, they can self-refer to a clinical audiologist, or they can see their doctor, i.e. Ear Nose Throat doctor, Neurologist, Pathologist, who can refer them for assessment.