Dizziness and vertigo are common human sensations, usually arriving and passing quickly. For up to 30% of people, however, these symptoms can be regular and recurring, creating challenges for daily living, including the ability to walk confidently without support or drive a car. When symptoms become significant, you may have a balance disorder.

There are many bodily systems that can cause balance issues, but in most cases the problem originates in the vestibular system, the balance organ located in your inner ears. Hearing & Balance Services of Reston is a smart first stop when investigating your balance disorder symptoms. As ear specialists, our team can assess your balance disorder and help you decide on your next steps.

Symptoms of balance disorders

The feelings associated with balance disorders can range from mild to severe, and there are different types of sensations that can hold clues about the origin of your issue. These sensations include:

  • Faintness or lightheadedness
  • Spinning or motion (vertigo)
  • Floating
  • Unsteadiness
  • Falling
  • Blurry vision
  • Mental confusion

Each symptom is associated with one or more types of balance disorder, and symptoms can blend, making the precise sensations you experience hard to describe.

Vestibular balance disorder

Though not the only cause of balance disorders, the vestibular system’s key function is providing a sense of balance and awareness of body position, so it’s a likely culprit. If you haven’t had an incident such as a concussion, it’s reasonable to start with the assumption that a balance problem originates in your inner ear.

There’s no singular cause for vestibular balance disorder, but some of the common culprits include:

  • Calcium crystals within the semicircular ear canals
  • Inner ear problems such as poor blood circulation
  • Infections, including respiratory infections that affect the ears
  • Reactions to medication
  • Migraines
  • Diseases, such as Meniere’s disease and Ramsay Hunt syndrome

Though people of any age may be affected by vestibular balance disorder, the risk increases as you get older.

Other reasons for balance disorders

In some cases, the inner ear portion of the vestibular system may be unaffected, but the brain doesn’t interpret the signals it receives properly, such as after a concussion or other brain injury. This could still be classed as a vestibular system disorder.

When your symptoms include feeling lightheaded or faint, it might be a problem with your circulatory system. Getting up quickly can sometimes cause this sensation, due to a sudden drop in blood pressure. Cardiovascular diseases that interfere with blood supply may also cause these symptoms.

Nerve damage in your legs can contribute to unsteadiness, interfering with sensation, strength, and/or muscle control. Degenerative joint conditions like arthritis can also lead to instability. Some vision issues may contribute as well.

However, the most common cause of balance disorder remains with ear function, so if you’re having problems, contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston for an ear exam and hearing assessment.