The most common symptoms of inner ear conditions affect balance, making you feel dizzy or unsteady. While many of us may experience dizziness at some point, it is important to determine whether it is symptomatic of an underlying inner ear condition or other factors affecting balance.
It is thought that four out of 10 Americans will experience a bout of dizziness, at some point in their lives, significant enough for them to consult a doctor. If severe, balance disorders can considerably affect an individual's daily life and cause physiological or emotional difficulties.
The Inner Ear
The inner ear contains an organ called the labyrinth, which is responsible for hearing as well as for balance and maintaining the body's position.
The labyrinth is composed of three structures: the cochlea (which is responsible for hearing), the fluid-filled semicircular canals (which determine movement and orientation), and the vestibule (which connects the cochlea and the semicircular canals). The vestibular system works with the body's visual system to keep objects in focus when the head is moving. Diseases of the inner ear affecting the vestibular system can contribute to balance disorder symptoms which may include:
- Feelings of dizziness or vertigo
- Lightheadedness or a feeling of floating
- Confusion or disorientation
- Blurred vision
Inner Ear Disorders
There are many types of inner ear disorders including vestibular neuritis, labyrinthitis, and MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease.
- Vestibular neuritis - The vestibular nerve becomes inflamed, largely as a result of a member of the herpes virus. Symptoms may include vertigo and sometimes nausea or vomiting. It generally affects adults and, in most cases, vestibular neuritis is a one-time experience.
- Labyrinthitis - An infection or inflammation of the inner ear that is usually caused by a common virus such as a cold or flu. In rare cases, labyrinthitis can be due to a bacterial middle ear infection. Common symptoms may include dizziness, loss of balance, ringing in the ears, or hearing loss. Most cases of vestibular neuritis and labrinthitis will clear within a few weeks, but treatment may still be advised to help reduce symptoms of vertigo or nausea.
- MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease-A chronic condition characterized by vertigo, tinnitus, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and fluctuating hearing loss. MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease usually only affects one ear.
While there is no cure for MÃ©niÃ¨re's disease, a doctor may recommend treatments including medications, dietary and behavioral changes, therapy, and alternative medicines to help patients cope with their condition.
If you are experiencing balance disorder symptoms, it is important to see your doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment, and to eliminate other medical causes of dizziness.