Updated: Jun 15, 2022
We all age, and intricate processes within our body get weaker with age. Around 15 to 20 percent of American adults experience balance or dizziness problems every year. This increases with age. A study in the journal of vestibular research found that 35 percent of adults above the age of 40 years in the United States experience balance dysfunction.
There are a variety of reasons equilibrium issues can occur. They are more common with age. According to Dr Cameron Budenz, with age also comes changes to vision or a potential loss of sensation in your legs and feet. She further added that dual sensory impairment such as vision loss and hearing loss also places extra stress on the balance system.
Hearing and balance are both part of the inner ear
The inner ear is the same part of the ear where the cochlea - the snail like organ where soundwaves get converted into electrical impulses and transmitted to the brain - resides. The hearing system and the balance organs share a nerve pathway to the brain, known as the vestibulocochlear nerve.
The connection between the hearing and vestibular system is direct, but there is a division as well. One part is dedicated to hearing, another part to balance.
This means when something goes wrong in one, it could affect the other. If you are experiencing dizziness and hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), there could also be something wrong with your inner ear. People who have hearing loss are much more likely to have balance disorders than those who do not have hearing loss, primarily because of this shared connection.
What is the relationship between Hearing and Balance?
The balance system of the body is dependent on the labyrinth covered by bone and fluids in the inner ear holding the semicircular canals, the otolithic tissues, and the cochlea. While the cochlea aids in hearing, the canals are important for ensuring balance. Each organ is in control of identifying a diverse type of motion. As there is a movement of fluid inside this cavity, there will be a sensation in the hair cells that send the information to the brain. This helps us to know the exact sense of surrounding space and relative movements. This is crucial for our balance system to identify the difference between motions like moving in vehicles or moving up a ladder.
Issues within the inner ear can cause issues such as difficulty in maintaining the equilibrium, dizziness, vertigo and vomiting. People may struggle to sit or stand upright, repetitive moving feelings, or nausea issues. Such annoying problems can dent our ability to carry routine functions smoothly.
While there may be other issues contributing to balance disorders, it is found that hearing problems could play a major part in leading to balance disorders.
Conditions that affect both hearing and balance
Meniere’s disease: This disease cause dizziness, tinnitus and hearing loss.
Acoustic neuroma: These benign, slow growing tumors grow on the vestibulocochlear nerve, causing hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo.
Ototoxic drugs: These are many medications, including antibiotics, chemo drugs and aspirin, that can potentially cause damage to hearing and balance systems.
Prolonged noise exposure: You’re likely well aware that loud noises are harmful to hearing and also damaging cells within the vestibular system.
Aging: As noted above, getting older means more balance problems And of course, the same is true for hearing. One third of adults over age 65 have age related hearing loss.
Infections: Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Epstein-Barr virus, or meningitis can also cause a loss of balance and hearing functions.
Genetic mutations: The sensory organs in our inner ear, vestibular and auditory, have a common embryonic origin, so a single gene mutation may disrupt development of both sensory systems.
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