Types of Balance Disorders

The following information was obtained from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. If you experience any of these symptoms, please call our office to schedule a balance evaluation at 801-770-0801.

There are more than a dozen different balance disorders. Some of the most common are:

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) or positional vertigo is a brief, intense episode of vertigo that occurs because of a specific change in the position of the head. If you have BPPV, you might feel as if you’re spinning when you look for an object on a high or low shelf or turn your head to look over your shoulder (such as when you back up your car). You also may experience BPPV when you roll over in bed. BPPV is caused when otoconia tumble from the utricle into one of the semicircular canals and weigh on the cupula. The cupula can’t tilt properly and sends conflicting messages to the brain about the position of the head, causing vertigo. BPPV sometimes may result from a head injury or just from getting older.

Labyrinthitis is an infection or inflammation of the inner ear that causes dizziness and loss of balance. It frequently is associated with an upper respiratory infection such as the flu.

Ménière’s disease is associated with a change in fluid volume within parts of the labyrinth. Ménière’s disease causes episodes of vertigo, irregular hearing loss, tinnitus (a ringing or buzzing in the ear), and a feeling of fullness in the ear. The cause of this disease is unknown. For more information, read the NIDCD fact sheet Ménière’s Disease.

Vestibular neuronitis is an inflammation of the vestibular nerve and may be caused by a virus. Its primary symptom is vertigo.

Perilymph fistula is a leakage of inner ear fluid into the middle ear. It can occur after a head injury, drastic changes in atmospheric pressure (such as when scuba diving), physical exertion, ear surgery, or chronic ear infections. Its most notable symptom, besides dizziness and nausea, is unsteadiness when walking or standing that increases with activity and decreases with rest. Some babies may be born with perilymph fistula, usually in association with hearing loss that is present at birth.

Mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) is a balance disorder in which you feel as if you’re continuously rocking or bobbing. It generally happens after an ocean cruise or other sea travel. Usually, the symptoms will go away in a matter of hours or days after you reach land. However, severe cases can last months or even years.

Next installment: How balance orders are diagnosed.

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