Balance Disorders Increase the Risk of Falling and Injury
May 01, 2017
Submitted by Leslie A. Davis, Mariposa Point of Gilbert
A balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel unsteady or dizzy. If you are standing, sitting, or lying down, you might feel as if you are moving, spinning, or floating. If you are walking, you might suddenly feel as if you are tipping over. Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or a problem in the inner ear or the brain.
A balance disorder can profoundly impact daily activities and cause psychological and emotional hardship. Falling, which can cause severe injury, is one of the greatest risks of balance disorders and injury from a fall can limit your ability to live independently or care for yourself.
Symptoms of a balance disorder
If you have a balance disorder, you may stagger when you try to walk, or teeter or fall when you try to stand up. You might experience other symptoms such as the following:
- Dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation)
- Falling or feeling as if you are going to fall
- Lightheadedness, faintness, or a floating sensation
- Blurred vision, confusion, or disorientation
- Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fear, anxiety, or panic
Other symptoms might include changes in heart rate and blood pressure. Symptoms may come and go over short time periods or last for a long time.
Causes of balance disorders
Many balance disorders start suddenly and with no obvious cause. Balance problems can be caused by medications, ear infections, a head injury, or anything else that affects the inner ear or brain. Low blood pressure can lead to dizziness when you stand up too quickly. Problems that affect the skeletal or visual systems, such as arthritis or eye-muscle imbalance, can also cause balance disorders. Your risk of having balance problems increases as you get older.
What are some types of balance disorders?
There are more than a dozen different balance disorders. Some of the most common include the following:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or positional vertigo: A brief, intense episode of vertigo triggered by a specific change in the position of the head. BPPV occurs when loose otoconia tumble into one of the semicircular canals and weigh on the cupula. The cupula doesn’t flex properly and sends wrong information about your head’s position, causing vertigo. BPPV can result from a head injury, or can develop just from getting older.
- Labyrinthitis [lab-buh-rinth-EYE-tiss]: An infection or inflammation of the inner ear that causes dizziness and loss of balance. It is often associated with an upper respiratory infection such as the flu.
- Ménière’s [main-YEHRZ] disease: Episodes of vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus (TIN-nih-tuss, a ringing or buzzing in the ear), and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It may be associated with a change in fluid volume within parts of the labyrinth, but the causes are still unknown.
- Vestibular neuronitis [new-ron-EYE-tiss]: An inflammation of the vestibular nerve that can be caused by a virus, and primarily causes vertigo.
- Perilymph fistula [PERRY-limf FIS-tew-lah]: A leakage of inner ear fluid into the middle ear. It causes unsteadiness that usually increases with activity, along with dizziness and nausea. Perilymph fistula can occur after a head injury, dramatic changes in air pressure (such as when scuba diving), physical exertion, ear surgery, or chronic ear infections.
- Mal de Debarquement [dee-BARK-ment] syndrome (MdDS): A feeling of continuously rocking or bobbing, typically after an ocean cruise or other sea travel. Except rare cases, symptoms usually go away a few hours or days after you reach land
strong>Should I seek help if I think I have a balance disorder?
If you answer “yes” to any of these questions, its best to talk to your doctor:
How are balance disorders diagnosed?
- Do I feel unsteady?
- Do I feel as if the room is spinning around me?
- Do I feel as if I’m moving when I know I’m sitting or standing still?
- Do I lose my balance and fall?
- Do I feel as if I’m falling?
- Do I feel lightheaded or as if I might faint?
- Do I have blurred vision?
- Do I ever feel disoriented — losing my sense of time or location
Diagnosis of a balance disorder is difficult, your doctor may suggest you see an otolaryngologist (a physician and surgeon who specializes in diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, neck, and throat).
The otolaryngologist may suggest a hearing examination, blood tests, an electronystagmogram (a test that measures eye movements and the muscles that control them), or imaging studies of your head and brain. Another possible test is called posturography. For this test, you stand on a special movable platform in front of a patterned screen. The doctor measures how your body responds to movement of the platform, the patterned screen, or both.
How are balance disorders treated?
The first thing a doctor will do if you have a balance problem is determine if another health condition or a medication is to blame. If so, your doctor will treat the condition, suggest a different medication, or refer you to a specialist if the condition is outside his or her expertise.
Some people with a balance disorder may not be able to fully relieve their dizziness and will need to find ways to cope with it. Wear low-heeled shoes or walking shoes outdoors. If necessary, use a cane or walker and modify conditions at your home and workplace, such as adding handrails.
Mariposa Point of Gilbert is dedicated to improving the comfort and quality of life for seniors and their families every day. Our dedicated Medical Director, Dr. Jerry Owensby, MD will be on-site every Friday to see our residents firsthand. The Health Services team includes a full-time RN and LPN as well as Certified Caregivers and Certified Dementia Practitioners.
For more information, contact Mariposa Point of Gilbert by phone at 480-545-8900, or email mktg.mpog@MariposaPointofGilbert. Please visit www.MariposaPointofGibert.com and our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/MariposaPointofGilbert. We are located at 1445 E. Willis Road, Gilbert.
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