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Colorado Springs

Audiology, Inc.

 

Phone  719.520.1155

LOCATION & DIRECTIONS

Dr. Gene McHugh

Licensed Audiologist

In Colorado

 

 

OFFICE HOURS

Mountain Time USA

Mon-Thurs

9:00 AM-5:00 PM

Closed Fridays

 

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  What is Dizziness and How and Why is it Often Related to the Ear?  
 

  

 "Dizziness" is a very general term that can involve any one or all of the following:

  • Unsteadiness - lasting only few seconds to consistently always
  • A tendency to fall, and/or
  • Vertigo - a sensation of rotation or whirling - like being on a merry-go-round

     Only VERTIGO - i.e., a feeling of spinning or whirling - is specifically related to ear disease and/or the related neurologic pathways.  If you have true vertigo, see your doctor. 

     On the other hand, unspecific unsteadiness or a tendency to fall minimally involves ear disease.

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR BALANCE?

     Maintaining one's balance involves three basic functions - referred to as the vestibular system: 

  • Vision
  • Propioception - i.e., sensory receptors located in your muscles, and
  • Inner ear structures

     If at any time, one of these functions is abruptly impaired, or two of these functions are generally impaired, balance is becomes very difficult. 

Let's look at the functions involved:

  • VISION:  Try closing your eyes and maintain balance - it's difficult.  Vision is greatly underestimated as contributor to maintaining balance. 
  • MUSCLES:  Deep muscle feeling, referred as proprioception, provides sensory input to help us keep our balance. "PROPRIOCEPTION"  is defined as "The ongoing awareness of receptors located in the muscle, tendon, joint, or vestibular apparatus."   This is why people with unsteadiness use a cane to assist balance maintainance. 
  • THE INNER EAR The inner ear has two functions:  Hearing (located in the cochlea) and balance (located in the other parts of the inner ear including the utricle, saccule, and  canals - collectively known as the vestibular system).  Both cochlea and vestibular systems require good blood supply.

Figure 1 The labyrinth of the inner ear, from the left ear. It contains i) the cochlea (yellow), which is the peripheral organ of our auditory system; ii) the semicircular canals (brown), which transduce rotational movements; and iii) the otoliths (in the blue/purple pouches), which transduce linear accelerations. The light blue pouch is the endolymphatic sac, and contains only fluid.

 WHY IS DIZZINESS COMMON IN THE ELDERLY?

      Like hearing and aging, there is a general decline in sensory cells in the vestibular system as we get older; some studies suggest about a 40% reduction in the canals and 25% in the utricle and saccule.  This is not a disease, but a normal aging process.  With less balance input from the ears, maintaining balance is not as easy as when you were younger.  Also, blood supply to the ears is poorer as we get older.  Standing too quickly often produces unsteadiness, or turning the neck too abruptly may cause sudden dizziness. 

      It's important to not be afraid of dizziness.  Yes, you may have to be more careful in your daily movements, but it's important to stay active.  Our instincts tell us that when we feel dizzy, we should stop what we're doing, sit down, and close our eyes, but this is the wrong thing to do.  If you feel dizzy, keep your eyes open, your feet on the ground, and steady yourself with a hand or arm.  Wait for the dizziness to subside, then keep going.