Certain types of hearing loss can impact balance, potentially leading to vertigo, dizziness, and an increased risk of falling. Additionally, some factors affecting the vestibular system can cause a decline in auditory perception and stability. Understanding how they are related can help you detect problems early and explore appropriate treatment options.
Structure of the Inner Ear
Hearing and balance both occur within your ear. Specifically, the cochlea (auditory) and vestibular system (equilibrium) are part of the inner ear. They share a connection to your brain via the vestibulocochlear nerve.
The inner ear includes the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure that houses auditory nerves, three semicircular canals, and the vestibule which assists with a sense of position and helps maintain equilibrium. The canals and vestibule are known as the vestibular organs.
The Vestibular Organs
Three fluid-filled semicircular canals and two otolith organs (the utricle and saccule) located within your inner ear make up the vestibular organs. Each canal ends in a small space (the ampullae) covered in tiny hairs.
The fluid inside the canals moves as you tilt or turn your head. When everything works correctly, it sends a signal to your brain that generates a perceived sense of direction or orientation in space. However, any miscommunication between the vestibular organs and the brain can result in balance-related issues.
Relationship Between Hearing and Balance
Because both hearing and balance are housed in the inner ear, they are susceptible to similar conditions. That means what impacts your ability to hear may also impact your sense of equilibrium. Additionally, declining function in one is commonly associated with an accompanying decline in the other.
If you have been around loud noises, then you should know that noise exposure can affect the inner ear, potentially damaging the auditory and vestibular systems. Certain medications can also damage the inner ear, causing hearing loss.
Some issues are unavoidable. For example, some people with hearing loss have genetic mutations that affect ear structure and the ability to maintain balance. Aging is another known contributor to hearing loss that also has links to decreased equilibrium. Additionally, some health conditions, including the following, may impact your balance or your ability to hear:
- Acoustic neuroma
- Infections, including Cytomegalovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, and meningitis
- Ménière’s disease
Effects of Hearing Loss on Balance
Many people recognize the obvious early signs of hearing loss, such as struggling to make out specific sounds or having trouble following a conversation in a crowded room. However, dizziness and vertigo can also be early indicators of an auditory problem.
The loss of a major sense affects the overall perception of surroundings, which may interfere with balance and coordination. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, ear injuries and inner ear disorders can negatively impact your balance. Additionally, since your cochlea and vestibular system utilize the vestibulocochlear nerve to communicate with your brain, any issues with it may translate to problems with the other system.
Learn More About Hearing Loss and Balance
Hearing loss can happen to anyone, at any age. HEAR Center serves patients at all life stages. Learn more about their audiology services or schedule auditory testing to see if hearing loss is affecting your balance.
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