Your inner ear is a part of your vestibular system, which contributes heavily to your physical equilibrium. You may experience balance problems or falls if you have hearing loss or ear damage. Balance tests will determine the severity and cause of your condition.
What is a Balance Test?
Balance testing is a series of evaluations used to determine the cause of dizziness and unsteadiness. Your muscles, vision and vestibular systems work together to maintain your spacial awareness and balance. Problems with any one of those systems may result in trips or falls.
Balance tests usually include:
Videonystagmography (VNG): This evaluation records and measures your eye movements. You’ll wear goggles and watch stationary and moving lights while lying in different positions. Your doctor will also use a machine to blow warm and cool air in your ears to see if the stimulation affects your vestibular system.
Rotary test: During this evaluation, you’ll sit in a motorized chair and wear goggles that measure your eye movement as the chair rotates back and forth and in circles.
Dix-Hallpike maneuver: This procedure tests how well your eyes adapt to sudden body and head movements. Your audiologist will monitor your eye movement as you quickly transition from sitting to lying down and rotating your head.
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Symptoms of Balance Disorders
You should consider scheduling a balance test if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Dizziness, unsteadiness and vertigo
- A loss of balance or staggering, especially when you walk
- Lightheadedness, faintness or a floating sensation
- Blurred or double vision
- A sense of confusion or mental disorientation
- Nausea or vomiting
- Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- A feeling of anxiety, panic or fear
Common Causes of Balance Disorders
Balance disorders occur when there’s a disruption in your equilibrium, which relies on nerve signals to pass from your inner ear’s vestibular organs to your brain’s vestibular nerve.
Common causes of balance disorders include:
- Meniere’s disease: This condition is a disorder in the inner ear that causes sporadic episodes of vertigo and often results in hearing loss.
- Vestibular neuritis: This viral infection causes inflammation in your inner ear and may result in balance problems.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): Your inner ear contains crystallized calcium particles that help keep you balanced. BPPV causes those crystals to shift out of place and negatively impacts your ability to balance.
- Migraines: Severe, throbbing headaches can cause nausea and dizziness, especially in chronic cases.
- Head injuries: Head trauma can cause permanent damage to the nerves in your ears.
- Ototoxic medication: Certain medications are toxic to the nerves and structures in your ears, and dizziness is a common side effect.
Treating Balance Disorders
Balance tests are necessary to determine the source of your discomfort and the appropriate treatment. You may require medication to treat an infection or ease symptoms like nausea and dizziness.
Your audiologist may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as eliminating nicotine to reduce your risk of headaches and nerve damage. Dietary changes can reduce the likelihood of side effects like nausea, diarrhea and tinnitus.
If BPPV is the problem, you may benefit from positioning procedures of your head and chest that reposition the calcium particles in your inner ear. If you have structural or nerve problems in your inner ear, you may need surgery if no other treatment options have an effect.