Hearing and Balance Problems
Hearing and balance problems are often inter-related conditions, as part of the inner ear, also known as the labyrinth, interacts with other body systems like the eyes, bones and joints to maintain balance. Problems within the ear or vestibular system can cause hearing loss and balance problems, which affect over 2 million people each year.
Types of Hearing Loss
There are three basic types of hearing loss, varying both in causes and treatment.
In conductive hearing loss, the problem results from a structural or blockage problem with the outer or middle ear. This variety of hearing loss, which causes sounds to be less audible, is most often treated with surgery.
In sensorineural hearing loss, the difficulty results from damage to the inner ear or to the auditory nerve, most commonly because the hair cells are not functioning properly. Sensorineural hearing loss, which causes sounds to be less intelligible, is often treated successfully with hearing aids.
Mixed hearing loss
Mixed hearing loss occurs when the patient suffers from hearing loss as a result of both neural and conductive malfunctions affecting both the both the outer or middle and the inner ear. Mixed hearing loss is most often treated with bone anchored hearing aids.
Types of Balance Disorders
A balance disorder is a complex condition that causes feelings of unsteadiness, dizziness and sensations of spinning, moving or floating.
Identifying the underlying cause and the type of balance disorder are both important in successful treatment. When a cause for the balance disorder is determined, a specific treatment plan can be created. Balance disorders are commonly characterized by their symptoms or cause.
Common balance disorders may include:
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo - Also known as BPPV, this condition causes feelings of vertigo after specific position changes of the head.
Labyrinthitis- Labyrinthitis results in dizziness and loss of balance caused by an infection or inflammation of the inner ear, commonly a complication of an upper respiratory infection.
Meniere's disease - Symptoms of Meniere's disease include vertigo, hearing loss and ringing in the ears caused by an inner ear fluid imbalance.
Vestibular neuronitis - Vestibular neuronitis is caused by a vestibular nerve inflammation and infection, which may be caused by a virus.
Perilymph fistula - Perilymph fistula is the leakage of inner ear fluid caused by physical injury or exertion.
Treatment for Balance Disorders
Treatment for a balance disorder depends on the cause. Treating the underlying cause can eliminate balance problems for many people. For others, the following treatment may can help to relieve symptoms:
- Balance training exercises
- Lifestyle changes such as limiting alcohol and caffeine
- Antibiotics for ear infections
- Anti-vertigo and anti-nausea medications
A vestibular rehabilitation therapist can also assist patients by developing an individualized treatment plans that combines head, body, and eye exercises to decrease dizziness and nausea. Surgery on the vestibular organs may be recommended for patients whose symptoms cannot be controlled by more conservative methods.
Treatment for hearing and balance disorders may involve treating the underlying cause of the condition. Patients experiencing any of these complex conditions should work together with their doctor to receive effective treatment.