As people age, a variety of changes can bring on dizziness, vertigo or imbalance. Often, symptoms are linked to the workings of the inner ear and simple exercises can help.
“We see patients who struggle with balance and disequilibrium problems for a variety of reasons,” said Kelly Seifert, a physician assistant at the Sanford Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “If you are faced with this challenge, we want to help you overcome these feelings of dizziness and vertigo.”
Exercises can build strength and tolerance for people experiencing dizziness, vertigo or imbalance.
“This will improve your ability to function in normal, everyday activities. It also reduces your risk of falling and ultimately improves your quality of life,” Seifert said.
Goals of the vestibular exercise program
- Loosen your neck and shoulder muscles
- Train your eyes to move independently of your head
- Practice balancing in everyday situations
- Practice head movements that cause dizziness
- Become accustomed to moving around
- Restore your self-confidence
The exercises are meant to challenge you, and commonly cause feelings of dizziness.
“Be patient and listen to your body,” Seifert said. “Before you know it, your dizziness and balance problems will begin to fade away.”
However, if you experience these symptoms regularly, the issue may be more serious. Known as vestibular balance disorder, diagnosis and treatment require an ear, nose and throat specialist. This condition becomes more common as you age.
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The human ear is a complex system of bone and cartilage. Within it is a network called semicircular canals which are filled with fluid that moves when you move. With that movement, a sensor in the ear sends information to your brain to contribute to your sense of balance. These and other delicate pieces make up the vestibular system.
What causes dizziness, vertigo, imbalance?
Common causes of vestibular balance disorders include:
- Inner ear problems, such as poor circulation in the ear
- Calcium debris in your semicircular canals
- Problems rooted in your brain, such as traumatic brain injury
What are the symptoms of vestibular balance disorders?
The symptoms of a vestibular balance disorder include:
- Feeling off-balance
- Feeling as if you are floating or as if the world is spinning
- Blurred vision
- Falling or stumbling
Less common symptoms include:
- Changes in your heart’s rhythm
How is a vestibular balance disorder diagnosed?
You may need to work with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT or otolaryngologist). Many conditions can make you feel dizziness, vertigo or imbalance. Part of the diagnosis may include ruling out other causes. First, your health care provider will review your health history. Then, they may do the following:
- Hearing exam
- Vision exam
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests of the head and brain
- Clinical tests of balance
- Look at your posture and movement, using a structured exam called a posturography
- ENG (electronystagmography) and VNG (videonystagmography). These are tests that record eye movements. They can help your provider find the cause of your disorder. Your vision system is a major part of your sense of balance. The ENG uses electrodes to watch eye movement. The VNG uses video cameras.
How is a vestibular balance disorder treated?
Treatment will depend on the cause of your balance disorder and may include:
- Treating any underlying causes. Depending on the cause, you may need antibiotics or antifungal treatments. These can treat ear infections that may be causing your balance disorder.
- Changes in lifestyle. You may be able to ease some symptoms with changes in diet and activity. This includes quitting smoking or staying away from nicotine.
- Epley maneuver (canalith repositioning maneuvers).This specialized series of head and shoulder movements help reposition particles in your semicircular canals to reduce symptoms.
- Rehabilitation. If you struggle with vestibular balance disorders, you may need vestibular rehabilitation or balance retraining therapy. This helps you move through your day safely. A rehab specialist will help you learn how to cope with dizziness in your daily life. You may need to learn better safety strategies and make adjustments for
- Going up and down stairs
- Driving ( be sure to ask your health care provider if it is safe for you to drive)
- Walking and exercising
- Using the bathroom
- Organizing your home to make it safer, such as tightening handrails
- Changing your shoes or clothing, such as wearing low-heeled shoes
- Changing your daily habits, such as planning your day so that you won’t be walking in the dark
- Using a cane or walker
What are possible complications of vestibular balance disorders?
Possible complications include:
- Injury from falling
- Reduced quality of life
Living with a vestibular balance disorder
Symptoms of vestibular balance disorder can interfere with your day, including your ability to drive, work, or enjoy recreational activities. This can cause depression and frustration. Counseling can help you learn to cope with the disorder and its affects on your lifestyle.
When should I call my doctor?
It’s important to understand that occasional feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness, vertigo or imbalance happen to most people. If these sensations are frequent and affect your quality of life, contact your health care provider.
Key points about vestibular balance disorders
- Vestibular balance disorders can affect your balance and make you feel disoriented.
- Common causes include inner ear problems, medicines, infections, and traumatic brain injury.
- These disorders can occur at any age. But, they become more common as people age.
- Treatment depends on the underlying cause and can include medicine, rehabilitation, and lifestyle changes. In some cases, surgery may be an option if symptoms don’t go away with other treatment.
- Talk with your health care provider if you have symptoms of vertigo, dizziness, or hearing changes. These can mean you have a vestibular balance disorder.