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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

9:00AM-5:00PM

Closed Fridays

 

 © Copyright 2017 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

  • unsteadiness and swaying - lasting only few seconds to consistently always
  • a tendency to fall with less ability to right oneself, and/or
  • vertigo - a sensation of rotation or whirling - like having been 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 rarely involves ear disease and most people are relegated to learning to live with this problem.     

HOW DO WE KEEP OUR BALANCE?

     Maintaining one's balance involves three basic functions: 

  • Vision
  • Receptors located in your muscles, and
  • The inner ear

     If at any time, one of these functions is severely and abruptly impaired, or two of these functions are 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 under-estimated as contributor to maintaining balance. 
  • MUSCLES:  Deep muscle feeling (referred as proprio-ception) 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 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.