If you've ever felt dizzy or unsteady, you're not alone. Over 90 million Americans, age 17 and older, have experienced dizziness or balance problems at some point according to the Vestibular (inner ear) Disorders Association.
The human balance system is complex and is comprised of sensory receptors in the eyes, muscles, joints and inner ear. Together, these sensors help us to maintain steadiness and balance.
The RWJ Hamilton Balance Center uses a multidisciplinary program to diagnose and treat symptoms that impact balance. These symptoms can include chronic unsteadiness, vertigo, dizziness and impaired balance. While not life threatening, these problems can greatly hinder one's quality of life including decreased social activity, fatigue, loss of stamina and increased risk of falling.
The Balance Center offers state-of-the-art, non-invasive technology to evaluate balance concerns, beginning with videonystagmography (VNG), the new standard for testing inner ear function. The VNG involves a series of tests that monitor the inner ear and movement of the eyes with infrared cameras. These tests look for signs of an underlying neurological or vestibular disorder.
Testing continues with computerized dynamic posturography, which uses sensors and computer monitors to record body movement while the patient attempts to maintain balance under various conditions. This test can determine if any component of the balance system is not functioning properly.
Once a patient's condition is precisely diagnosed, a team of audiologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists and physicians will develop a customized plan of treatment. Therapy may include exercise programs, education in fall prevention and training in functional activities.
Problems with balance and dizziness are commonly called vestibular disorders because balance is controlled by the vestibular system — a tiny network of fluid-filled tubes and sacs in the labyrinth of the inner ear. The vestibular system interacts with your eyes, bones, joints and the brain to regulate the body's position or orientation. When these systems fail to work together properly, balance problems can occur.
Audiologists are trained to perform hearing and balance tests to determine possible causes of dizziness or balance disorders. The audiologist assists the patient to perform the tests, interprets the results of the tests and generates a report for the physician to determine the appropriate course of treatment. The RWJ Hamilton physical therapy department is trained to properly treat patients based on the results of the VNG tests.
Some causes for dizziness and balance disorders include:
- Inflammation or infection of the inner ear
- Meniere's disease, involving a buildup of fluid in the inner ear
- Acoustic neuroma, a benign growth on the acoustic nerve in the inner ear
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Changes in motion, like riding in an airplane or on an amusement park ride (motion sickness)
- Medical conditions including arrhythmia, common colds and even pregnancy