An estimated 33 million American adults have balance disorders, including feelings of dizziness and being unsteady on their feet. These problems can stem from many sources, and the challenges to mobility can make daily tasks difficult and, in some cases, dangerous for you and everyone around you. The risk of accident and injury climbs with the severity of the disorder.

Defining balance disorders

Dizziness is one of those terms that may mean different things. Occasional bouts of dizziness are quite common, and virtually everyone has them from time to time. These could happen when you stand up quickly or had more to drink than usual, but they don’t happen often, nor do the effects linger.

Balance disorders tend to be recurrent or longer-lasting. The intensity of the off-balance sensation can be significantly stronger than incidental dizziness and may interfere with your ability to walk steadily or maintain a standing position.

Symptoms associated with balance disorders

Your dizziness or loss of balance may give clues about its underlying cause. Feeling faint or lightheaded can lead to unsteadiness, a condition called presyncope. This is what you experience if you have the sensation when standing quickly, resulting from a sudden drop of blood pressure. It may also result from heart issues, such as arrhythmia or blocked vessels.

When you feel spinning motions, you have vertigo. Most commonly, this results from problems in the middle ear, including things such as motion sickness, acoustic neuroma, or vestibular neuritis, but it may also accompany migraines or head injuries. Confusion, particularly when combined with other balance disorder sensations, could be a symptom of the same condition.

Instability or loss of balance as you walk is a balance disorder that you might not associate with dizziness. It could stem from nerve issues including neurological conditions, muscle weakness, or joint instability. Some medications may cause balance issues as a side effect.

Diagnosing balance disorders

Since balance disorders can stem from ear, nerve, joint, or brain problems, or as a reaction to medication, a diagnosis may sometimes be difficult. This is when specialists such as the otolaryngologists of Lakeshore Ear, Nose & Throat Center can help.

After a review of your symptoms, current and past medications, and medical history, some of the tests you may undergo can include:

  • Vital signs, including blood pressure and heart rate, though you may have multiple tests in both sitting and standing positions
  • Hearing tests, which may reveal inner ear issues
  • Eye movement tests, including the Dix-Hallpike maneuver, electronystagmography, or videonystagmography
  • Moving platform or moving chair tests, such as posturography or rotary chair tests, to also evaluate eye movement, which is related to vestibular function
  • Imaging tests, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computer tomography (CT) scans

Treating balance disorders

Treating dizziness may be as simple as changing a medication or dosage to reduce side effects, or you could undergo therapy designed to help you cope with imbalance issues by essentially re-training your vestibular system. 

Severe, long-lasting vertigo can be treated with medications, and lifestyle changes including diet may ease the effects of conditions such as migraines or Ménière’s disease. Some conditions, such as acoustic neuroma, may benefit from surgical procedures.

When dizziness progresses from an occasional annoyance to a regular issue, contact Lakeshore Ear, Nose & Throat Center by phone or online to request a consultation to get your life back in balance.