Tinnitus is ringing or buzzing in the ears. Many people who experience
How Hearing Impacts Balance
Our ears are incredible pieces of biological engineering. Not only do they translate vibrations in the air into sounds that we can perceive in our minds, but they also allow us to walk upright, giving us a sense of balance.
How Our Ears Help Us to Balance
Balance is a complicated process that involves multiple body systems, including the eyes, muscles, brain, and bones. However, the ears play an important role, too.
In the ear are three small circular loops (called the labyrinth) containing a small amount of fluid. The first senses balance in the vertical plane, the second in the horizontal plane, and the third in the remaining axis. Small hairs on the interior of the loops detect changes in the position of fluid relating to the orientation of our bodies as they move through space. All three work together to send the brain information which then uses it to signal to the rest of the body to keep us upright.
You experience feedback from these loops in everyday situations, including when you stand in an elevator or jump up and down. Changes in the position of the fluid send signals to your brain, telling it that it is now in a new position or angle.
The Link Between Balance and Hearing Loss
Not all people with balance issues have hearing loss and vice versa. However, the two can coincide, and there is often a direct link between them.
A study published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found a statistical association between balance problems and hearing loss. Researchers argued that this was the result of anatomy. The inner ear features two connected parts: the cochlea and the labyrinth. The labyrinth is responsible for balance, and the cochlear is responsible for turning vibrations into nerve impulses sent to the brain. Both are closely connected, so problems that affect one often affect the other. For instance, people with Meniere’s disease and labyrinthitis can develop both balance and hearing problems at the same time.
Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear that causes swelling. Many people experience vertigo (disrupted balance), along with other symptoms, such as tinnitus, nausea and hearing loss.
Not all inner ear infections, however, lead to hearing loss. If a condition is causing balance issues, and nothing else, then it is called vestibular neuronitis. It only becomes labyrinthitis if there is evidence of accompanying hearing loss.
Meniere’s disease comes from heightened pressure in the inner ear. Usually, it only affects the ear on one side, though in rare cases, it may affect both. People with the condition may develop vertigo and other balance issues. They may also have a sensation of pressure buildup within the ear for months before it becomes serious. Treatment is available but the disease often resolves itself within a few years.
Besides labyrinthitis and Meniere’s disease, there is a range of other conditions and causes of simultaneous balance and hearing loss issues. Acoustic neuromas (benign, slow-growing tumors) can sometimes grow on the vestibulocochlear nerve, leading to balance and hearing loss issues. Aging can also lead to balance problems, as can certain genetic mutations that affect the inner ear, auditory and vestibular systems. People with perilymph fistula, a problem with the membrane between the middle and inner ear, can also develop issues. Usually, it is the result of head trauma but can arise by itself.
How to Treat Balance and Hearing Loss
The type of treatment a patient receives depends on the root causes of their hearing loss and balance issues. In the case of Meniere’s disease, there is no cure. Instead, treatment revolves around managing symptoms with anti-dizziness and anti-nausea medications. Other therapies include vestibular physical therapy, infection treatment, and steroids.
In most cases, hearing loss is not reversible. However, again, it comes down to the underlying reasons. In some cases, removing excess fluid from the middle ear or resolving infections can lead to hearing restoration.
Get Help for Balance Issues
If there is a problem with part of the ear responsible for hearing, it can spill out and affect another. Therefore, it is always a good idea to go to the audiologist to find the underlying cause of hearing loss. Professionals can perform a full diagnosis and find out what’s wrong, plotting a path for treatment.
If you’d like to find out more, get in touch with Desert Hearing Care today. Call (480) 374-1846 to schedule a consultation. Don’t let balance or healing loss issues damage your quality of life.