Written by Hugh Bleemer, Outreach Manager
Balance disorders are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor. One in three Americans over age 65 will fall every year according to parentgiving.com.
A balance disorder is a disturbance that causes you to feel unsteady, lightheaded or as if you or the room is spinning. “Balance disorders can be due to a disturbance in the inner ear, but they can also be caused by visual problems, skeletal problems or nerve problems”, says Lawrence Meiteles, MD, medical director of The Balance Center of Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, NY.
The 5 most common balance problems are:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) – According to The National Institute of Health (NIH), BPPV is one of the most common types of balance disorders. Few people have probably heard of it, but keep an eye out for it. Its primary symptom is intense vertigo when moving your head.
- Meniere’s Disease – This is a condition in which the fluid inside the labyrinth (the part of the inner ear responsible for balance) increases. Meniere’s Disease affects both balance and hearing. Symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss that comes and goes, a roaring sound and a sensation of fullness in the ears.
- Labyrinthitis – When the inner ear becomes infected or inflamed, such as from a viral upper respiratory infection (e.g. flu), the result can be vertigo or loss of balance.
- Other Health Conditions – Certain health issues can also result in balance problems. Some types of tumors can affect balance. In addition, long term medical conditions that impact the nervous system can affect balance. Some examples are Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, circulation problems, arthritis in the neck and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Ramsey Hunt Syndrome – While rarer than the diseases mentioned above, Ramsey Hunt Syndrome occurs when the shingles virus has attacked the vestibular nerve in the ear, one of the most important nerves related to balance.
Those who suffer from occasional issues with balance should not rush to diagnose themselves. Besides the above listed conditions, there are many other causes for balance issues such as, side effects from medications.
The ability to balance decreases with age, but losing your balance is not a normal part of aging. Most balance disorders can be treated, and many falls can be prevented. If you or someone you know is dealing with consistent balance disorder, contact a medical professional for assistance.