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How Your Ears Impact Your Balance

A loss of balance often occurs due to a problem with the signals the ear sends to the brain. These usually control our sense of balance and spatial awareness.

However, if a person has a condition that affects the brain or inner ear, they may experience a loss of balance, spinning sensations, unsteadiness, lightheadedness, or dizziness.

Loss of balance can occur for a range of reasons, including ear infections, head injuries, medication, and neurological disorders.

Learn more about the causes of a loss of balance, as well as how doctors diagnose and treat them, here.

Causes

Possible causes of a loss of balance include:

Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear, or the labyrinth.

The labyrinth, or the vestibular system, is the structure of the inner ear that helps people stay balanced.

If the labyrinth becomes infected or inflamed, it can cause a loss of balance and affect hearing. People may also feel dizzy and nauseated.

People may develop labyrinthitis after having an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu.

Ménière's disease

Ménière's disease affects the inner ear. Fluid builds up in the inner ear, making it difficult for signals to reach the brain.

This disruption affects a person's ability to balance and hear. If people have Ménière's disease, they may feel dizzy and have a ringing in their ears.

The cause of Ménière's disease remains unclear, but experts think it may have to do with:

  • genetics
  • viral infections
  • autoimmune conditions
  • constricted blood vessels

Vertigo

Vertigo is a symptom of various conditions, and it often accompanies a loss of balance. There are two main types of vertigo:

  • Peripheral vertigo: This often results from a condition affecting the inner ear, such as an inner ear infection or Ménière's disease.
  • Central vertigo: Central vertigo is less common and can be a result of a neurological disorder, such as stroke or multiple sclerosis.

People with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), or positional vertigo, tend to feel a spinning sensation when they turn their head in a certain way.

BPPV occurs when calcium carbonate crystals in the ear come loose and move into the semicircular canals of the inner ear.

The semicircular canals use fluid to sense head movement. The loose crystals get in the way of the fluid movement, and the inner ear starts sending incorrect signals to the brain about the position of the head, which causes dizziness.

BPPV can affect older adults and people who have had a head injury.

Article originally appeared on Medical News Today.