Have you ever felt dizzy, lightheaded, or as if the room were spinning around you? These can be very troublesome sensations. If the feeling happens often, it could be a sign of a balance problem. Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor.
In 2008, an estimated 14.8 percent of American adults (33.4 million) had a balance or dizziness problem during the past year.
Why Good Balance is Important
Having good balance means being able to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or remaining still. An intact sense of balance helps you
- walk without staggering
- get up from a chair without falling
- climb stairs without tripping
- bend over without falling.
The part of the inner ear responsible for balance is the vestibular system, often referred to as the labyrinth. To maintain your body’s position, the labyrinth interacts with other systems in the body, such as the eyes, bones and joints.
Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities.
When People Have Problems with Balance
As they get older, many people experience problems with their sense of balance. They feel dizzy or unsteady, or as if they or their surroundings were in motion. Disturbances of the inner ear are a common cause.
Vertigo, the feeling that you or the things around you are spinning, is also a common symptom.
Balance disorders are one reason older people fall. Falls and fall-related injuries, such as hip fracture, can have a serious impact on an older person’s life. If you fall, it could limit your activities or make it impossible to live independently. Many people often become more isolated after a fall.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly more than one-third of adults ages 65 years and older fall each year. Among older adults, falls are the leading cause of injury-related deaths.
BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo)
There are many types of balance disorders. One of the most common is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. In BPPV, you experience a brief, intense feeling of vertigo when you change the position of your head, such as when rolling over to the left or right, upon getting out of bed, or when looking for an object on a high or low shelf. BPPV is more likely to occur in adults aged 60 and older, but can also occur in younger people.
In BPPV, small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced and disrupt the inner ear balance sensors, causing dizziness. The reason they become displaced is not known; the cause may be an inner ear infection, head injury, or aging.
This is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear that causes dizziness and loss of balance. It is often associated with an upper respiratory infection such as the flu.
Ménière’s disease is a balance disorder that causes a person to experience
- hearing loss that comes and goes
- tinnitus, which is a ringing or roaring in the ears
- a feeling of fullness in the ear.
It affects adults of any age. The cause is unknown.
There are many ways to treat balance disorders. Treatments vary depending on the cause. See your doctor if you are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, or other problems with your balance.
Information provided National Institute for Senior Health http://nihseniorhealth.gov/
Causes and Prevention
People are more likely to have problems with balance as they get older. But age is not the only reason these problems occur; there are other causes, too. In some cases, you can help reduce your risk for certain balance problems.
Problems in the Inner Ear
Some balance disorders are caused by problems in the inner ear. The part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance is the vestibular system, also known as the labyrinth. When the labyrinth becomes infected or swollen, this condition is called labyrinthitis. It is typically accompanied by vertigo and imbalance.
Other balance disorders may involve another part of the body, such as the brain or the heart. For example, 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 can also cause dizziness.
Aging, infections, head injury and many medicines may also result in a balance problem.
Problems Caused by Medications
Balance problems can also result from taking many medications. For example, some medicines, such as those that help lower blood pressure, can make a person feel dizzy.
Ototoxic drugs are medicines that damage the inner ear. If your medicine is ototoxic, you may feel off balance. Sometimes the damage lasts only as long as you take the drug; many times it is permanent.
Groups of drugs that are more likely to be ototoxic include
- anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants)
- hypertensive (high blood pressure) drugs
- anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
- aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic)
- certain analgesics (painkillers)
- certain chemotherapeutics (anti-cancer drugs).
Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication. Ask if other medications can be used instead. If not, ask if the dosage can be safely reduced. Sometimes it cannot. However, your doctor will help you get the medication you need while trying to reduce unwanted side effects.
Diet and Lifestyle Can Help
Your diet and lifestyle can help you manage certain balance-related problems. For example, Ménière’s disease, which causes vertigo and other balance and hearing problems, 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 may make Ménière’s disease symptoms less severe.
Balance problems due to high blood pressure can be managed by eating less salt (less 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.
Prevent Ear Infections
The ear infection called otitis media is common in children, but adults can get it too. Otitis media can sometimes cause dizziness. You can help prevent otitis media by washing your hands frequently. Also, talk to your doctor about getting a yearly flu shot to stave off flu-related ear infections. If you still get an ear infection, see a doctor immediately before it becomes more serious.