Balance disorders are a type of disturbance that makes a person feels unsteady when standing or walking. They can be accompanied by sensation or walking, cause feelings of giddiness, spinning or a sensation of fainting. Balance is the product of many systems of the body working together such as the ears (vestibular system) the eyes (the visual system) and proprioception (the sense of the body in space). Any malfunction in any of these systems can lead to balance problems or impairment. When the balance is impaired, the person will find it difficult to maintain an upright orientation.
A person suffering from balance disorder may not be able to walk without staggering or even to stand at all. The symptoms may also include falls or near falls, dizziness, feeling of wooziness or lightheadedness, difficulty in seeing and reading and also have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and a decrease in concentration.
Balance impairment can occur when there is a disturbance in any of the vestibular (ear), visual (eye, or proprioception - spatial orientation of the body) systems. It is caused by a wide range of disorders such as inner ear disorders, low blood pressure, brain tumors, and brain injury.
Vertigo, disequilibrium, and pre-syncope are used by most doctors to describe dizziness, and these three have different definitions.
Vertigo: is the feeling of spinning that a person has or that feeling of the room revolving around a person. It is associated with nausea and vomiting in some people.
Disequilibrium: it is characterized by frequent falls in a particular direction. Unlike Vertigo, there is no nausea or vomiting involved.
Presyncope: this is a sensation of lightheadedness or feeling. Conditions such as low blood pressure can cause dizziness while standing. Arthritis or eye muscle imbalance can cause balance impairment.
Ear-related causes of dizziness are after characterized by spinning and nausea.
Benign paroxysmal positional Vertigo (BPPV) is the most common cause of vertigo.
It is characterized by a short but intense sensation of spinning which occurs when there are changes in the position of the head with respect to gravity such as getting out of bed, looking up for something on a high surface or rolling to the left or right. BPPV is caused by the presence of normal but misplaced calcium crystals known as otoconia which are usually found in the utricle and saccule and are used to sense movement. If they become loose in the semicircular canals of the middle ear, they can disrupt the sense of movement thereby causing the wrong information of head movement to be sent to the brain causing a spinning sensation. Labyrinthitis is an inner ear infection which can cause both vertigo and hearing loss. Skull injury, surgical trauma to the semicircular canal, Meniere's disease
Perilymph fistula (leakage of fluid from the inner ear), superior canal dehiscence syndrome, caused by a gap in the temporal bone and bilateral vestibulopathy (a condition that involves the loss of balance function in both ears) are other causes of vertigo.
Some causes of vertigo are related to the brain and central nervous systems such as meningitis, encephalitis, syphilis, ischemia, stroke, lateral medullary syndrome, hydrocephalus, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, abasia, and multiple sclerosis. Motion sickness occurs when there is a conflict between the information from various systems involved in balance thereby causing an unpleasant feeling.
The balance system works with the muscle, joints, their sensors, and the eyes to maintain equilibrium and balance. The eyes send visual signals to the brain concerning the position of the body with respect to its surroundings. The brain then processes and compare the information from the vestibular (ears), the proprioceptive capital orientation of the body), the visual (eye) and the skeletal systems.
This may be complicated due to the fact that there is a wide range of medical conditions that can cause balance disorders. An otolaryngologist is to consult for proper examination and diagnosis. Imaging tests such as MRI scans and CT scans as well as hearing tests may be performed the treatment of balance disorders is mainly based on the underlying causes and assessment results such as symptoms, medical history, general health and results of medical tests.