A balance disorder is a disturbance of the body systems controlling balance. This disturbance can make people feel dizzy, unsteady, or as if they were spinning. Balance disorders are a common cause of falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fractures.

Having good balance means you are able to control and maintain your body's position, whether you are moving or still. An intact sense of balance helps you walk without staggering, get up from a chair without falling, and climb stairs without tripping.
There are many types of balance disorders. One of the most common among older adults is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. With BPPV, you experience a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when you change the position of your head.
You may also experience BPPV when rolling over to the left or right upon getting out of bed, or when looking up for an object on a high shelf. In BPPV, small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced, causing dizziness. The reason the particles get displaced is not known, although it may result from an inner ear infection, head injury, or aging.
Another type of balance disorder is labyrinthitis. The labyrinth is an organ of the inner ear that helps you maintain your balance. When the labyrinth becomes infected or swollen, It is typically accompanied by vertigo and imbalance.
Upper respiratory infections and other viral infections, and, less commonly, bacterial infections, can lead to labyrinthitis.
Ménière's disease is a balance disorder that causes
  • vertigo
  • hearing loss that comes and goes
  • tinnitus, which is a ringing or roaring in the ears
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear.
Ménière's disease can affect adults of any age. The cause is unknown.
Balance disorders can have a serious impact on an older person's life. They are a common reason older people fall. A fall or a life of limited physical activity due to balance disorders can lead to health problems, isolation, and loss of independence.
Falls are the leading cause of are the leading cause of injury and death in older adults.
Some balance disorders are caused by problems in the inner ear. Others may involve another part of the body, such as the brain or the heart. Aging, infections, head injury, certain medicines, or problems with blood circulation may result in a balance problem.
The part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance is the labyrinth. When the labyrinth becomes infected or swollen this condition is called labyrinthitis.
Upper respiratory infections, other viral infections, and, less commonly, bacterial infections, can lead to labyrinthitis.
Some medications, such as those used to lower blood pressure, can make you feel dizzy. Other medications might damage the inner ear. These medications are called ototoxic. Some antibiotics are ototoxic. Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication.
Diseases of the circulatory system, such as stroke, can cause dizziness and other balance problems. Smoking and diabetes can increase the risk of stroke. Low blood pressure also can cause dizziness.
Your diet and lifestyle can help you manage certain balance-related problems. Ménière's disease is linked to a change in the volume of fluid in the inner ear. By eating low-salt (low-sodium) or salt-free foods, and steering clear of caffeine and alcohol, you can make symptoms such as vertigo less severe.
Balance problems due to high blood pressure can be managed by eating less less salt (sodium), maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising. Balance problems due to low blood pressure may be managed by drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, avoiding alcohol, and being cautious regarding your body's posture and movement, such as standing up slowly and avoiding crossing your legs when you’re seated.
Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you should discuss the symptom with your doctor.
  • Do I feel unsteady?
  • Do I feel as if the room is spinning around me?
  • Do I feel as if I'm moving when I know I'm standing or sitting still?
  • Do I lose my balance and fall?
  • Do I feel as if I'm falling?
  • Do I feel lightheaded or as if I might faint?
  • Does my vision become blurred?
  • Do I ever feel disoriented, losing my sense of time, place, or identity?
Balance disorders can be signs of other health problems, such as an ear infection, stroke, or multiple sclerosis. In some cases, you can help treat a balance disorder by seeking medical treatment for the illness that is causing the disorder. Exercises, a change in diet, and some medications also can help treat a balance disorder.
In benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced, causing dizziness. A doctor or otolaryngologist can treat BPPV by carefully moving the head and torso to dislodge these particles.
An NIDCD-supported clinical trial in BPPV showed that repositioning maneuvers work well, and offered clinicians a range of choices in selecting the treatment best suited to each individual’s unique needs.
Ménière's disease is caused by changes in fluid volumes in the inner ear. People with Ménière's disease can help reduce its dizzying effects by lowering the amount of salt (sodium) in their diets. Limiting alcohol or caffeine also may be helpful.
Some medications, such as corticosteroids or the antibiotic gentamicin, also are used to treat Ménière's disease. Although gentamicin can help reduce the dizziness that occurs with Ménière's disease, it occasionally destroys sensory cells in the inner ear which can result in permanent hearing loss. Corticosteroids don't cause hearing loss; however, research is underway to determine if they are as effective as gentamicin.


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