Inner Ear Balance
In some cases, inner ear balance and balance disorders can have an effect on your hearing. But how does this all work?
How does our balance system work?
Overall the ear has three main parts:
- External or outer ear - This is the visible part of the ear on the outside
- The Middle ear - This is the main function of the ear, which is to transmit sound from the outer to the inner ear
- The Inner ear - This is called the labyrinth
The balance system is made up of a complex system of nerves, small tubes called semicircular canals and fluid inside the labyrinth. It also includes parts of the brain and other components.
The vestibular (balance) systems inform your brain of the movements and positions of your head. Three sets of tubes (semicircular canals) make up each vestibular system, which detect when you move your head. There are also two structures called the ‘otoliths’ which informs the brain when your head is moving in a straight line and indicates the position of your head in respect of the pull of gravity.
There are other contributing factors
The ear is a very important component in the balance system, but it is not just down to this and other factors play a role.
For a good sense of balance we also need to be able to see where we are be aware of the positions of certain key parts of our body in relation to other parts of the busy, and in relation to our surroundings. Food binocular vision is the most component within the system in regards to maintaining balance.
Examples of Inner ear balance systems
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV is an example of how inner ear balance disorders can sometimes have an effect on your hearing, which can cause intense bouts of dizziness.
The cause of BPPV is the build-up of certain particles, or crystals, within one of the tubes in the balance system, called the posterior semicircular canal. Due to the intricate connections between the balance system of the inner ear and the eye muscles, at its worst, BPPV causes a specific nystagmus unique to the condition.
Recent developments in treatments have focused on clearing out the particles trapped in the posterior semicircular canal. These treatments include the Canalith repositioning procedures or particle repositioning procedures.
Meniere’s disease includes experiences of repeated attacks of intense dizziness with a spinning sensation. Each attack typically lasts for two to three hours, but can last up to 24 hours - often involving the affected person vomiting. This disease is most common in women between the ages of 20-60, but can affect men as well.
Symptoms include noticeable changes in hearing before or during the vertigo attacks, including tinnitus and a loss of hearing. You may also experience sensitivity to sound, distorted sound and a tenderness or pressure in one of your ears before or during the episode.
In the initial stages of the condition, it is possible to maintain good balance and not experience ay dizziness between attacks, but it is likely you will experience varying degrees of hearing loss. This hearing loss usually fluctuates at first and improves after each dizziness attack. However, there is attendance for hearing loss to get worse over time and it can become permanent. It is important to note that the symptoms and severity of this condition can vary greatly for each person.
What can you do?
If you believe you may be having difficulties with your balance, then please contact your GP.
Your GP will first want to know:
- Details of the first episode of your symptoms and what they were – for example, whether you felt lightheaded or if your surroundings were spinning
- If you also experience other symptoms – such as hearing loss, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting or fullness in the ear
- How often your symptoms occur and how long they last for
- If your symptoms are affecting your daily activities – for example, whether you're unable to walk during an episode of vertigo
- Whether anything triggers your symptoms or makes them worse, such as moving your head in a particular direction
- What makes your symptoms better