Understanding How Balance Disorder Is Tested

Occasional dizziness can strike virtually anyone. When balance issues become a regular occurrence, though, it’s time to see a specialist to determine the cause of the problem. Most of the time the source is your inner ear, so it makes sense to visit the team at Hearing & Balance Services of Reston.

While audiologists do prescribe and fit hearing aids, we are ear testing experts. Some of the tests you’ll need to determine the origin of your balance disorder are done in your audiologist’s office. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Vestibular balance disorders

Your sense of balance comes from many body systems working together. A problem in any of these could result in difficulties controlling balance. For instance, a joint or muscle problem in your legs could render you unstable and more likely to fall.

The majority of balance disorders, though, result from problems with the vestibular system, the organ responsible for balance control located in your inner ear. It sends information about your body’s orientation to the brain. The vestibular system is vulnerable to the influences of several conditions, including:

  • Brain injuries
  • Calcium deposits in the semicircular ear canals
  • Infections
  • Medical conditions that affect the inner ear
  • The effects of some medications

Sometimes, the symptoms you experience may point to a vestibular origin of your balance disorder, even if it seems unrelated to your ears.

Ear exams

Diagnosing vestibular balance disorders usually starts with an ear exam and a hearing test, since some of the components of these procedures determine how well the systems of your ears are working. That’s why your treatment for balance disorders can start with your audiologist.

It’s not always easy to discover the reasons why your balance is off. Your inner ear, though, is central to the function of the vestibular system, so it makes sense to start there. Ear tests are a battery of tests, medically called audiometry. Combined, these give a complete picture of your ear function and hearing loss. Several audiometry components give information specific to parts of the ear that may cause balance disorders.

Auditory brainstem response (ABR)

Signals from your ear stimulate your nervous system, and ABR measures how well this stimulation occurs. Usually, this test is reserved for patients who can’t respond to other types of tests, such as infants, or those who can’t have certain diagnostic imaging performed on them.

Electrocochleography (ECOG)

An ECOG test also measures how the nervous system responds to sound using a sound source and electrodes. Not all patients need this test, though it provides important information for some conditions that affect balance, such as Meniere’s disease.

Otoacoustic emissions (OAE)

Your ear creates signals for the nervous system through tiny hairs in the cochlea. OAE measures how well these hairs respond to a series of test signals.

Your ear exam also includes more typical tests, such as a review of your symptoms and medical history, as well as a visual inspection of the ear canal with an otoscope.

Contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston to request your hearing assessment. Though discovering the origin of a balance disorder isn’t always easy, an ear test is usually the first step in the diagnostic process, so book your visit now.

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