The feelings of wooziness, unsteadiness, and a sensation of faintness affects us all. The difficulty with balance is often felt in the morning upon awakening due to prescription medications, a lack of coffee, or as a result of too many alcoholic beverages. However, dizziness and balance problems can also indicate underlying problems related to ear infections, head injuries, and circulation disorders. In fact, dizziness is a prime reason that people make appointments with health providers.
Categories of Balance Disorders
Our sense of balance is dependent upon a series of signals sent to the brain by organs and structures that comprise the vestibular system. Numerous experts believe that four out of ten people will experience an episode of dizziness severe enough for medical attention at some point in their lives. The causes of dizziness and balance disorders can include infections, head injury, a blood circulation disorder that affects the brain or inner ear, medications, and aging. There are four general categories of balance disorders:
- Peripheral vestibular disorder– disorders limited to cranial nerve VIII and distal structures.
- Central vestibular disorder– a disorder that affects the brain or the connecting nerves.
- Systemic disorder– a disorder that affects any part of the body other than the brain and nerves.
- Vascular disease– these disorders affect the flow of blood.
Difficulty maintaining orientation occurs when a person’s balance is affected. Some of the major symptoms of a balance disorder include:
- Dizziness or vertigo (spinning)
- A sensation of falling
- Visual blurring
Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, faintness, anxiety, panic, and changes in blood pressure may also signal a balance problem. Disorientation may also occur with certain disorders. Cognitive disorders such as disorientation may affect memory and object recognition as well.
Common Balance Disorders
- Labyrinthitis, an infection of the inner ear, causes dizziness and balance problems.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is the sensation of vertigo that occurs due to a positional change of the head.
- Meniere’s disease is a fluid balance disorder of the inner ear.
- Perilymph fistula is the leaking of inner ear fluid into the middle ear.
- Vestibular neuronitis is a viral infection of the vestibular nerve.
Dizziness and balance disorders are difficult to diagnose due to the variety of types and numerous other conditions and medications that contribute to balance problems. A primary care physician will obtain a medical history and a physical exam. If needed, a referral to an ear doctor for a hearing exam, blood tests, and audiology tests aids in the diagnosis process.
Of course, the treatment of dizziness and balance problems depends on the diagnosis. Some of the standard treatments for these type of disorders include the following:
- Positioning procedures
- Balance retraining exercises
- Diet and lifestyle changes
There is much research regarding balance disorders. Investigators continue working to understand the various disorders and the interactions involving the brain and the other balance-sensing organs to prevent falls and other injuries related to balance problems. If you are feeling dizzy and it is not related to sleep or a night on the town, contact your primary care physician for an examination today.