Balancing The Many Balance Disorders: A Look At Various Balance Disorders And How They Are Treated

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Generally Speaking, What Is A Balance Disorder?

Although there are many different types of balance disorders, they all generally share the same symptoms, which may either be chronic or they may come and go sporadically. Specifically, people who have a balance disorder experience one or more of the following:

  • Dizziness and unsteadiness (even when the body is motionless)
  • Vertigo (feeling that you are spinning)
  • Lightheadedness
  • Disorientation
  • Impaired vision
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Change in blood pressure
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed thoughts
  • Inability to fully concentrate

Generally, balance disorders are attributable to certain health ailments, certain medicines, or a problem with the vestibular system, which is the portion of the inner ear that is responsible for maintaining normal balance.

What Are The Most Common Balance Disorders?

Some common balance disorders are:

  • Vestibular neuronitis. Vestibular neuronitis is a swelling or inflammation of a portion of the vestibular system called the vestibular nerve. A hallmark symptom of vestibular neuronitis is vertigo.
  • Labyrinthitis. Like vestibular neuronitis, labyrinthitis is a swelling of the vestibular system which is usually caused by an upper respiratory infection, such as influenza, for example. A common symptom of labyrinthitis is dizziness.
  • Perilymph fistula. A perilymph fistula is marked by drainage of fluid from within the inner ear (its normal position) to an abnormal position within the middle ear. Perilymph fistulas usually follow traumatic events that affect the head, such as a serious head injury, a great and sudden change in atmospheric pressure, ear surgery and ear infection, for example. The primary symptoms of a perilymph fistula are nausea, vomiting, dizziness and unsteadiness.
  • Positional vertigo. Those who have positional vertigo are subject to feeling as though they are spinning after even the slightest movement of the head. This is caused by faulty signals regarding the true position of the head that are sent by the vestibular system to the brain. Positional vertigo sometimes is a result of head injury.
  • Ménière’s disease. Ménière’s disease, which is caused by fluid volume change in the inner ear, is marked by vertigo, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears.
  • Mal de debarquement syndrome. Those who have mal de debarquement syndrome experience a continuous rocking or bobbing sensation, which usually follows a voyage at sea. Mal de debarquement syndrome typically lasts only several hours after sea travel, but it is important to note that the worst cases can last several days, months or even years.

How Are Balance Disorders Diagnosed And Treated?

Balance disorders can be very tricky to diagnose. In many cases, positive diagnosis is not made by a family doctor but instead is made by an ears, nose and throat specialist. Some of the many steps that may be taken to best identify which balance disorder is the cause of a patient’s problems include conducting hearing and tests, conducting tests to measure eye movements and the muscles that control them, taking images of the brain, and performing a posturography, which is a highly specialized movement test to see how normally (or abnormally) a balance disorder patient moves in space in response to patterns that are depicted on a screen.

When an individual who is experiencing balance problems first visits her doctor, the doctor typically tries to determine whether the problem is the result of either a medical condition or the use of a medical drug that is needed by the patient to treat another condition. If she suspects the latter, the doctor will usually prescribe another medicine to replace the drug that is causing the imbalance.

Another step the doctor may take is to recommend dietary changes (particularly if it is believed that the patient is suffering from Ménière’s disease) that are aimed at alleviating vertigo symptoms. When it is believed that the patient is suffering from positional vertigo, the doctor may also recommend that the patient perform a series of specific head movements that are designed to correctly position otoconia (which are bits of calcium carbonate that are contained within the inner ear and that need to be correctly positioned in order for proper signals regarding balance to be sent from within the inner ear to the brain).

These are just some of the various types of balance disorders and methods for treating them. If you suspect that you may have a balance disorder, it is recommended that you see your doctor right away. She can definitively diagnose the type of disorder that you are suffering from and she can help choose a treatment course that hopefully will have you steady on your feet in no time.


Mayo Clinic, Balance Problems:

National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Balance Disorders: