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Inner ear problems and vertigo


Understanding the balance system

The inner ear plays a key role in helping the body keep its balance. To do this, the inner ear senses head and body position, and motion. It also works with other parts of the body, such as the eyes.

The body relies on the inner ear for balance signals. Signals sent to the brain from the inner ear, eyes, and other areas help the body stay balanced. With inner ear problem, the brain may be getting the wrong signals. This can lead to vertigo or the sensation of feeling of off balance, often dizzy.  

Benign positional vertigo 

The most common cause of vertigo is called benign positional paroxysmal vertigo (BPPV). It happens when crystals in the ear canals shift into the wrong place. Vertigo usually occurs when you move your head in a certain way. This can happen when turning in bed, bending, or looking up.

It causes vertigo that lasts for seconds. Vertigo can occur several times a day, depending on body position. This often doesn't cause hearing loss and may go away on its own. However, with treatment it may go away sooner.

Infection or inflammation

Sometimes the semicircular canals swell and send incorrect balance signals. This problem may be caused by a viral infection. Depending on the cause, your hearing can be affected.. 

The inner ear has a system of fluid-filled tubes and sacs called the labyrinth. Inside the inner ear, the cochlea gathers information about sound. The vestibular organs gather information about motion and changes in space. These all help to create a sense of balance.

When one of the nerves or the labyrinth is infected, it can become inflamed and irritated. This can cause it to not work normally. It may cause hearing loss in one ear. The brain now has to make sense of the information that doesn’t match between the normal nerve and the infected one. This can causes vertigo.

Infection or inflammation:

  • Causes vertigo that lasts for hours or days. The first episode is usually the worst.

  • Can cause hearing loss.

  • Often goes away on its own. But it may go away sooner with treatment.

Ménière disease

Ménière disease is a balance disorder, but often less common. Although it can happen to anyone,  Ménière disease is most often found in people in their 40s and 50s. It happens when there is too much fluid in the ear canals. This causes increased pressure and swelling, affecting balance and hearing signals. It’s caused by an abnormality in part the inner ear called the labyrinth. Fluid buildup here can cause a severe spinning feeling (vertigo) and affect the hearing.

Too much endolymph buildup in the labyrinth can interfere with the normal balance and hearing signals between the inner ear and the brain.

This fluid buildup in the chambers in the inner ear may be caused by several things, including allergies, abnormal immune system response, head injury, migraine headaches, or a viral infection. Symptoms include a severe spinning feeling (vertigo), nausea, vomiting, loss of hearing, ringing in the ears, headache, loss of balance, and sweating.

There is no cure for Ménière disease but treatment can help manage symptoms. Common treatment includes behavior therapy, hearing aids, medicine, diet changes, and surgery.