How Your Balance System Works
Have you ever wondered how you balance? Seems simple enough; if you get up out of bed you stand up and then just stay standing up. Turns out, nothing is as simple as it seems (tell that to my seven-year-old self who was sure gymnastics would be as easy as the Olympic gymnasts made it look). In order to balance, there is a complicated group of things working together inside your body to keep you standing upright.
As your Spanish Fork audiologist explains it, your balance system relies on your inner ear as well as how your brain processes what it sees and feels. Seems simple; your eyes tell your body what it sees (are you standing straight up or hanging upside-down) and your sensory system, such as your skin, muscles and joints, tells your body what it feels (are you falling through space or are you leaning against the wall).
The Inner Ear’s Role in Balance
Now onto the inner ear’s part in all this. While it is easy to assume the ear’s only role is to aid in hearing, it actually plays an important part in the balance system. The inner ear contains three semicircular canals filled with fluid called endolymph. Each semicircular canal lies at a different angle and is responsible for a different movement: up-and-down, side-to-side and tilting from one side to the other.
Each and every head movement causes the fluid inside the canals to also move. When the fluid moves, it triggers the small hairs that line the canals (called cilia) to move as well, which then send an electrical impulse to the brain. The brain processes these impulses and determines how your body is moving.
The semicircular canals are helpful if you are moving, but what happens when you are not? That’s where the utricle and the saccule come in. The utricle and the saccule are a group of sensory nerves located within the inner ear. The utricle is sensitive to changes in horizontal movement (the tilt of your head). The saccule is sensitive to the change in vertical acceleration, such as going up in an elevator.
As with anything related to hearing, everything is fine when it is working. But what happens if something goes wrong? That is where your Spanish Fork audiologist comes in. If you are having trouble with your balance or feeling like you are spinning or falling, contact your Spanish Fork audiologist to schedule an appointment.
Come back next week for part two! We will explain everything that can go wrong with your balance system and what you can do about it.