Balance disorders may be the result of a variety of different problems, but many balance disorders fall under the purview of otolaryngologists, or ear, nose and throat doctors who have expertise in balance disorders. Diagnosing a balance disorder may involve hearing tests, blood tests, an electronystagmogram (ENG) or imaging studies of the head and brain. What are the primary causes of balance disorders, and how are they treated?
What Causes Balance Disorders
Balance disorders can be caused by a variety of health conditions, external stimulus or other causes, but some of the most common types of balance disorders are:
- Labyrinthitis – inflammation or infection in the inner ear, which causes dizziness and loss of balance.
- Vestibular neuronitis – infection of the vestibular nerve, which generally has its roots in viral causes.
- Perilymph fistula – leakage of fluid from the inner ear to the middle ear. This may be caused by head injury, physical exertion, or rarely with no known cause.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – an intense sensation of vertigo, usually brief, cause by changing the position of the head. This may occur when getting up in the morning, looking up for an object on a high shelf, or when making other specific positional changes of the head. BPPV may be caused by head injury, an inner ear infection, or aging – specific causes are not known, but triggers may be determined by testing and gathering data on its occurrences.
- Ménière’s disease – a balance disorder involving inner ear fluid, which can cause vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus or the sensation of fullness in the ear. Causes of this disease are unknown.
Diagnosing and Treatment
Because balance disorders can have so many different causes, there is no universal system of diagnosing and treating balance disorders.
To aid in diagnosis, individuals who are having balance problems should write down the symptoms, and be specific in describing when, how and where they experience dizziness. Also, provide a list of current medications to the doctor, as some medications can have balance-related symptoms and side effects.
Once you’ve discussed your balance problems with your doctor, he or she will begin diagnostic testing to determine the specific type of disorder you’re experiencing. Diagnostic tests may include hearing tests, blood tests, imaging studies or other tests.
Once the doctor has determined the type of disorder, you can begin discussing treatment options. Again, treatment will vary depending on the type of issue, but may include things like:
- Treatment for the underlying disease or disorder contributing to the balance problem, such as an ear infection or specific diseases.
- Balance retraining exercises known as vestibular rehabilitation. This is a series of movements of the head and body designed for the patient, and it attempts to help the patient compensate for the disorder.
- Dietary changes may be recommended, such as reducing alcohol, caffeine, sodium or nicotine.
- If hearing loss is involved, the doctor may recommend a hearing aid, or may have specific instructions for the use of a hearing aid (or not using a hearing aid) during treatment for things like underlying infections.