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Hearing aids are commonly thought of as helping with hearing loss and some symptoms of tinnitus, but could they also help with balance issues. According to the NIDCD, in 2008 roughly 33 million American adults, or 15% of the population, had a balance or dizziness problem. While balance can be impacting by certain health conditions or medications, problems within the inner ear can also play a role.
The inner ear and balance
There are three loops in your inner ear, called semicircular canals. One canal senses up-and-down movement. Another canal senses side-to-side movement. The third canal senses tilting movements. Each canal has hair cells and fluid inside. When you move, the fluid and hair cells move. The hair cells send messages to your brain through the acoustic nerve. Your brain uses this information to help you know where you are in space. Parts of your inner ear also tell your brain about where your head is when you are not moving. They tell your brain when you move straight, like in a car, or when you go up and down, like in an elevator. You use this information, along with what you see and feel, to keep your balance. Inner ear trouble can lead to balance problems. You should see your doctor if you have balance problems or feel dizzy.
In addition to improving cognitive ability and lowering symptoms of depression and anxiety, hearing aids have been shown to alleviate balance problems. Considering recent research has shown how those aged 40 to 69 with at least a mild hearing loss are nearly three times as likely to experience falls, this is a significant discovery. For the elderly, many of whom suffer from profound hearing loss, this could mean lowering the risk of falls that could be life threatening. Those who walk around in the dark may find themselves unable to follow a straight line or retain their balance because of a lack of visual information. Likewise, when hearing aids restore the ability to detect where sounds are located in space, it is much easier to orient the body without feeling dizzy.
A study in balance
Enhancing hearing appears to improve balance in older adults with hearing loss, according to new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Patients with hearing aids in both ears performed better on standard balance tests when their hearing aids were turned on compared with when they were off.
The small study, which appears in the journal The Laryngoscope, while small was the first to demonstrate that sound information, separate from the balance system of the inner ear, contributes to maintaining the body’s internal balance. The study lends support to the idea that improving hearing through hearing aids or cochlear implants may help reduce the risk of falls in the elder population.
“We don’t think it’s just that wearing hearing aids makes the person more alert,” said senior author Timothy E. Hullar, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance. It’s a bit like using your eyes to tell where you are in space. If we turn out the lights, people sway a little bit — more than they would if they could see. This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance.”
All Ear Doctors
Schedule an appointment immediately with us at All Ear Doctors if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Hearing loss and/or ear infections
- Low blood pressure
- Discomfort in the chest
- Falls or trouble walking
- Weakness or numbness in arms or legs
- Impaired vision or speech
- Confusion or faintness
- Traumatic head injury
When hearing loss is profound enough to seriously impact the inner ear, the inner ear organs cannot function properly and may lead to balance problems or vertigo. Visit us at All Ear Doctors to find out exactly what is going on with your hearing. We can examine your ear to determine whether hearing loss is contributing to dizziness and balance issues.