A balance disorder is any condition that makes you feel dizzy or unsteady, even without actual movement. This is of special concern to older adults, putting them at greater risk of falling; this can lead to serious injury such as a hip fracture. Studies show between 12 and 67 percent of elderly individuals who fracture a hip die within a year. Figuring out what is causing dizziness is important, regardless of your age.
Because the inner ear is responsible for balance, most cases of dizziness originate here. The inner ear contains the labyrinth, a bony maze-like structure consisting of the cochlea, semicircular canals and vestibule. The latter two make up the vestibular system, which detects the position and movement of the head in relation to gravity and transmits this information to the brain. This process enables balance and reflexive eye movements. Abnormal vestibular signals cause the body to make incorrect adjustments, leading to dizziness or vertigo.
Dizziness causes you to feel faint or lightheaded, and may be accompanied by disequilibrium (loss of balance), nausea, confusion, disorientation and a floating sensation. This is the result of your brain sensing movement when none is occurring, and is often caused by a quick drop in blood pressure. There are many other conditions that may be responsible including ear infections, neurological disorders, anemia, inner ear abnormalities and more.
Vertigo is the sensation of movement when none is occurring, such as a feeling that the room is spinning. Symptoms associated with vertigo include nausea, vomiting, tinnitus, double vision, a feeling of fullness in the ear and hearing loss. It is typically due to changes in the vestibular system that cause false signals to the brain. Common conditions that cause vertigo include BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, loose calcium crystals in the inner ear), inflammation of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease and acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor on the vestibular nerve.
Dizziness & Balance Disorder Treatments
The key to treating dizziness and balance disorders is finding the underlying condition responsible for your symptoms. This requires a thorough examination by your doctor and may include diagnostic testing. Treatment may consist of medication, physical or occupational therapy, surgery, vestibular rehabilitation and lifestyle modification.