Key Points about Balance Disorder

  • A balance disorder can make you feel dizzy or lightheaded and make it difficult to walk or even just stand up.
  • Having a head injury, low blood pressure or ear infection can increase your risk of having a balance disorder.
  • ENT specialists typically treat balance disorders with a combination of lifestyle modifications, medications and therapy.

Overview

Balance disorders affect 4 out of 10 people at some point in life. They are often caused by inner ear issues, health conditions, or medications.

A balance disorder can cause you to feel dizzy, lightheaded, confused or nauseous. Blurred vision is also a symptom. If you’re standing still or sitting, you may feel like you’re moving, floating or spinning. If you’re walking, you might get the feeling that you’re tipping over.

There are several types of balance disorders, including vertigo, Meinere’s disease, perilymph fistula (PF) and Mal de Debarquement syndrome (MdDS).

Balance disorder causes

Balance disorders are fairly common, and can be caused by other underlying health conditions, certain medicine or a condition of the inner ear or brain.

Balance disorder risk factors

You may be at risk for developing a balance disorder if you have:

  • A head injury
  • An ear infection
  • Health condition that affects your skeletal system or vision, such as arthritis or eye muscle imbalance
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)

Taking certain medicines can also put you at an increased risk for having problems with your balance. Speak with your ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for more information.

Balance disorder symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a balance disorder may include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Confusion
  • Falling down
  • Feeling like you’re going to fall
  • Feeling of dizziness or a spinning sensation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems walking

Balance disorder diagnosis

Your ENT specialist may use one or more of the following tools to diagnose your balance disorder:

  • Physical examination. Your ENT doctor will perform a complete physical exam, and ask you questions about your health history in general and your balance disorder specifically.
  • Hearing test. Your ENT doctor may order a hearing test, which can help determine if an ear problem is causing your balance problem.
  • Blood tests. A blood test can check for – or rule out – other conditions that may be causing your balance disorder.
  • This test analyzes your eye movements and the muscles that control the eyes.
  • Performed while you’re standing on a specialized moving platform, this test checks how well you can maintain your balance during a series of movements.

Balance disorder treatment

Your ENT specialist may use one or more of the following treatments to help manage your balance disorder:

  • Ambulatory modifications — To help you avoid falling, try not to walk around in the dark. If needed, use a cane or walker to get around. Wear sensible, low-heeled shoes or walking shoes when you’re walking outside. Remove unneeded obstacles, such as rugs, from your home.
  • Epley maneuver — If you have vertigo, your ENT specialist may recommend you undergo the Epley maneuver to remove the obstruction from your ear canal that is causing your balance problems.
  • Lifestyle modifications — If you have Meniere’s disease, your ENT specialist may recommend changes to your diet to help manage your symptoms. If you smoke, you should quit smoking.
  • Your ENT specialist may prescribe anti-vertigo or anti-nausea medications to help control your symptoms. Alternately, your ENT specialist may prescribe a type of antibiotic medication – called gentamicin – to help relieve feelings of dizziness.
  • If other, more conservative approaches are not effective in treating your balance problem, your ENT doctor may recommend a surgical procedure.
  • Vestibular rehabilitation — Your ENT specialist may recommend you attend regular sessions to work with a vestibular rehabilitation therapist, who has special training in balance disorders and can help you learn strategies to cope.

When to seek care

If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an ENT doctor for more specialized treatment.