You can’t find your shoe, so you bend down to look under your bed. Suddenly, the world is spinning and you lose your balance. It only happens for a brief moment, but it’s enough to scare you into thinking you should see your doctor.
You could have a balance disorder.
There are lots of types of balance disorders, but the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) lists the following as among the most common.
5 of the Most Common Balance Disorders
- Ménièr’s disease. This can cause vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss. Scientists don’t know what causes the disease, but they theorize that a change in the volume of fluid in parts of the labyrinth could be the root of this disease.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Often called ‘positional vertigo’, this is characterized by short bouts of vertigo when you move your head. It causes a spinning sensation, and can be caused by a head injury but is often merely a symptom of getting older.
- Vestibular neuronitis. This occurs when your vestibular nerve becomes inflamed because of a virus. The main symptom is vertigo.
- Labyrinthitis. When the inner ear becomes infected, it can swell. This often causes dizziness or even loss of balance. People who get the flu or other types of respiratory infections are at risk for Labyrinthitis.
- Perilymph fistula. If the fluid from your inner ear leaks into your middle ear, the result can be dizziness, nausea, and an unsteady feeling. The more you move, the worse it can be. The cause is usually external factors, such as a head injury, ear surgery, or scuba diving issues. But some people are just born with it.
Other Causes of Balance Disorders
Besides the conditions listed above, there are many other causes of balance problems. The balance system is a complex network of parts with many interdependent functions. When it’s disrupted, it’s not always easy for doctors to determine the cause.
In general, however, there are three types of causes:
- Diseases and conditions listed above
- Trauma to the head or the inner ear (infections, falling, whiplash)
- Damage to the central nervous system (e.g. stroke or aging)
Aging and Balance Disorders
Sometimes unsteadiness is simply a symptom of getting older. To lower your risk of falling, wear sturdy shoes, keep your home well-lit, and consider installing handrails or making other modifications throughout.
Pay a visit to your doctor if you find yourself struggling to maintain your balance or believe a senior family member is having balance issues. Don’t forget to ask the physician if a history of falls might be putting you or your loved one at higher risk for having a car accident as well.
How Balance Disorders are Treated
Your physician will determine whether your balance problems are caused by a medication you’re taking or if some other health issue is causing your symptoms.
Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor physician may be able to prescribe a different medication or treatment or refer you to a specialist.
Some of the most common treatments for balance disorders include:
- Epley maneuver. Doctors often recommend the Epley maneuver, a physical manipulation performed on an outpatient basis, for patients with BBPV.
- Vestibular therapy. Some dizziness never goes away, so treatment is therapy to learn to cope with and minimize the symptoms
- Lifestyle changes. If you are diagnosed with Ménièr’s disease, your doctor may recommend that you stop smoking and make some dietary changes. If the disease is severe, surgery can be performed.
The Bottom Line: Stay Safe
If you have vertigo, dizziness, nausea, unsteadiness, or any other balance problem, make your home or your older loved one’s as safe as possible to prevent a fall.
Five Star Senior Living maintains a helpful resource area for seniors and caregivers. There, you will find tips on how to prevent falls as well as dozens of other topics that may be of interest to you or your loved one.
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