The Relationship Between Hearing and Balance

Nov 17, 2022GP News & Updates

How do ears effect balance?

The inner ear is made up of two parts: the cochlea, the organ of hearing; and the vestibular system, which is responsible for one portion of the balance system. This system is made up of a pair of complex fluid filled structures; three semicircular canals and two utricles in each ear. These organs work to keep people upright, stable and moving. The signals from the vestibular system and the cochlea are sent to the brain via neural signals, carrying information regarding our hearing and balance.

The proximity of these two structures, as well as the connection between the cochlea and vestibular nerve, means that hearing and balance disorders can often be related. This means that when there is a problem with one system, it can often affect the other system. Ear concerns can often impact our ability to maintain balance, walk, run, or stand. Additionally, people who have hearing loss and damage to their cochlea nerve, are more likely to have balance problems compared to people who do not have hearing loss.

There are several diseases that can affect both systems at the same time due to this direct link between the two systems. For example, there is a condition known as Labyrinthitis, which involves an infection of the inner ear. This condition causes symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus, nausea, and vertigo (a spinning sensation). Often this condition can be treated if the correct assessments are completed promptly after the sensations begin.

Also, there is a common vestibular condition called Meniere’s disease. This disease also causes attacks of vertigo, hearing loss, tinnitus, as well as a sensation of fullness in the ears. It is often caused by an increase in pressure in an area of the inner ear. While there is currently no known cure for Meniere’s disease, it is diagnosed through hearing tests and balance tests so that appropriate management can be advised to reduce the severity and occurrence of symptoms.

This link between the hearing and balance system means that it is essential an audiologist performs balance testing so that the ears and hearing are assessed at the same time. Through audiological and vestibular testing, an audiologist can determine the cause of dizziness and vertigo, whilst also managing the hearing loss if one is present. Vestibular disorders are evaluated with audiologic assessments, videonystagmography (VNG) and electrophysiological testing. This testing involves looking at how the balance organ works with the eyes, ears, joints, muscles, and skin. It is important that the cause of balance problems is known so that a solution and treatment can be found quickly.

There are many causes of imbalance and dizziness. These balance issues may or may not be associated with a hearing loss. However, it is important that vestibular and audiological tests are performed to assess if the balance and hearing organs are affected. This allows the audiologist to identify if your patient is experiencing a vestibular disorder, so that they receive appropriate treatment and management.

Vestibular Triage Testing at Victorian Hearing

Victorian Hearing offers Vestibular Triage Testing. Our audiologists are able to observe if your patient’s vestibular systems is working efficiently by recording movements of the eyes. The triage test includes six subtests, which are used to help determine the cause of the vertigo, dizziness or imbalance, which if identified, can often be treated. We recommend a comprehensive hearing assessment prior to the vestibular triage testing. A hearing assessment and vestibular testing will take 90 mins in total. The vestibular triage testing alone will take 45 minutes. If your patient has been experiencing dizziness and/or balance issues, reach out to Victorian Hearing, call or email today to discuss vestibular testing and how we can help your patient.