The Vestibular System
Balance is maintained by a complex combination of senses and information from the vestibular organ in the inner ear, the eyes, muscles, joints, and skin. These systems work together to keep your body standing, ensure your visual field is stable and maintain an upright posture.
Input from these systems is combined and processed by the brain. The brain then sends messages to the muscles in the body and the eyes to maintain posture and balance as well as keeping the visual field steady. This means that there needs to be constant communication between the ears, eyes, muscles, joints, and the brain to continuously detect, review and adjust the position of the body. This system is so complex that developers of moving robots are still struggling to re-build this system into technology.
The inner ear contains the organ of hearing, called the cochlear, as well as the vestibular system. The vestibular system in simple terms a sensory system which tells our brain information about motion, head position and spatial orientation and is essential for normal movement and balance.
The vestibular system is made up of five organs designed to send information about the position and movement of the head to the brain. There are the three semi-circular canals which indicate position and two tiny organs which can sense vertical and horizontal acceleration and deceleration. The canals are filled with fluid which stimulates tiny hairs when the head is moved so that messages are sent via the vestibular nerve to the brain.
There are also three reflexes in this system that are important for coordinating movements. These reflexes control eye-movement, the contraction of neck muscles as well as lower body muscles in a response to movement of the head. The brain combines these components of the vestibular system with the information about gravity, rotation, and acceleration from the inner ear system, analyses the data and gets muscles to act accordingly. This is important to allow for postural and visual stability.
Symptoms and Disorders
Dizziness and vertigo can be caused by an imbalance of signals in the vestibular system. These symptoms can also be caused by other factors such as medical conditions like low blood pressure, neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, or anxiety disorders. Although, it is common that the cause of an individual’s dizziness stems from the inner ear, where balance is regulated.
When an individual experiences dizziness, many people report that they feel unsteady, the world is spinning, they feel lightheaded or like they are floating. Sometimes, this dizziness can be accompanied by vomiting, nausea, migraines, or fainting. However, these different sensations are important for clinicians to understand what kind of dizziness a person is experiencing.
Testing for Dizziness and Imbalance
Specialists, such as audiologists and physiotherapists, can assess an individual’s vestibular system. This is important to understand where the problem is coming from or rule out if there is any vestibular dysfunction.
The vestibular system is a very complex system, and this is reflected in the testing that is needed to assess it. This involves a comprehensive assessment of the system as a whole and can take a few appointments to get all the results that are needed. The first step is to always assess the hearing to understand how the ears may be contributing to the symptoms. It is important to then understand how the ears and eyes are working together through tests involving the visual system and your gaze. Following this, the final part of testing the vestibular system is to assess the vestibular and neural pathways.
It is important for anyone experiencing dizziness, imbalance, or vertigo to be aware of what may be triggering these symptoms or attacks. Additionally, take notice of how long these symptoms last for and how often you are feeling like this. If you notice that there is anything that makes the dizziness, feel better, such as lying down or turning the lights off, it is important to make note of this. Knowing this information can assist a clinician in understanding more about your dizziness to determine where the problem may be.
Vertigo, dizziness, and light-headedness are conditions that can have a large impact on your quality of life. Vestibular tests are important in helping your doctor, or other medical professionals, in determining the cause of these symptoms. This is important so that a solution to these symptoms can be founder more quickly.
EAR STUDIO is now offering vestibular assessments for testing balance and dizziness. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or you are concerned about your balanced, contact EAR STUDIO on 02 9159 6122 to speak to one of our staff or book an appointment online.