Thrown off balance? It could be your hearing
Friday 21 October 2022
Our ears do so much more than simply enable us to hear - they play a crucial role in keeping us balanced. That's why it's so important to take care of our ears and pay attention to any problems that arise as soon as possible.
Specsavers' chief audiologist, Gordon Harrison, runs through three common ear problems that could be affecting your balance. He says: 'The ear, and in particular the inner ear, plays a major role in helping us balance. Inside the inner ear are semi-circular canals that are filled with a special fluid that swirls around in responses to movement. Inside these canals are specialist nerve receptors that tell our brain the body is moving.
That's why when we spin round in circles we tend to lose our balance - the liquid inside our inner ears rapidly swirling causes miscommunication between the body and the brain.'
Three ear problems that could throw you off balance
‘The labyrinth is the name given to the fluid-filled tubes found in the inner ear,’ explains Gordon. ‘Labyrinthitis happens when these tubes become inflamed, preventing the nerves to communicate messages to the brain properly.
‘As well as loss of balance, other symptoms include dizziness, feeling or being sick, tinnitus and hearing loss.
‘Labyrinthitis is usually caused by a viral infection, but it can also be caused by a bacterial infection too. It typically follows on from a cold or flu, with the infection spreading from the chest, mouth, nose or chest into the inner ear.
‘During the first few days, symptoms will be at their most intense. It’s best to rest in bed to avoid dizziness and avoid any sudden movements.
‘If symptoms persist for longer than two weeks, it’s advisable to visit your doctor.’
‘Vestibular neuritis, also known as vestibular neuritis, is an infection of the vestibular nerve found in your inner ear that is responsible for controlling balance,’ says Gordon.
‘Often confused for labyrinthitis, the two conditions are very similar. Like labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis causes balance issues, dizziness and sickness. However, vestibular neuritis only affects the nerve responsible for balance, so doesn’t cause hearing loss or tinnitus.
‘Similar to labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis can follow on from a viral infection spreading to the vestibular nerve. It can also be the result of a bacterial infection, stemming from things like a middle ear infection or following a head injury.
‘Usually people will start to feel better after a few days, but full recovery tends to take around three weeks. It’s also possible for you to experience bouts of dizziness or vertigo for a few months after.’
Gordon says: ‘Ménière’s disease is caused by an abnormal amount of liquid in the inner ear. It causes extreme attacks of dizziness, tinnitus and hearing loss. It can occur at any age but is most common in people between 20 and 60 years old.
‘Symptoms can last anywhere between 20 minutes to 24 hours. There’s no cure for the disease, and is classed as a chronic condition, but there are things your doctor can prescribe to alleviate the symptoms, such as anti-nausea and anti-vertigo medication.
‘As there’s no known cause for the condition, it’s important to visit a specialist if you suffer symptoms of Ménière’s disease as it could be the sign of a different illness.’
You can discuss any eye or hear care queries with the team at Specsavers Hammersmith on 020 8748 3233 or you can book an appointment online.