There are many ways hearing loss can affect balance. The inner ear, which consists of the cochlea, semicircular canals, and vestibule, is responsible for both hearing and balance due to the many tiny hair cells that help detect movement and changes in orientation. Hearing damage occurs when these inner ear hair cells get damaged or destroyed, thus compromising your ability to maintain balance and causing you to be vulnerable to falls.
What’s worse is that hearing loss can make it difficult to hear the sounds around you, such as traffic or warning signals. Hearing loss can have a profound effect on your overall sense of well-being. Not being able to easily communicate with others and understand what is happening around you can make you more susceptible to falls.
Any disruption to the vestibular system, which gives us our sense of balance and is responsible for spatial orientation- body position and coordinating movements can mean there may be an underlying condition to your hearing loss. Of course, ear infections and other causes of inflammation can affect balance by making you feel unsteady and dizzy. However, medications, head injuries, and anything else that affects the inner ear or brain can cause balance impairment as well. Some common balance disorders that are caused by hearing problems include:
- Labyrinthitis: an inner ear infection where the labyrinth (responsible for the body’s sense of balance) is swollen and inflamed and can lead to hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, and nausea.
- Meniere’s disease: a condition in the inner ear that can lead to vertigo, a sensation in which you or your environment feels like it is moving or spinning due to the changes in fluid volume in the ear.
- Perilymph fistula: fluid from the inner ear leaks into the middle ear.
The Hearing Loss Association of America lists some common symptoms of balance disorders:
- Falling – or feeling as if you are going to fall
- Floating sensation
- Blurred vision
- Confusion or disorientation
In addition, research has shown that individuals with hearing loss have poorer reactive balance, making them more prone to falls. Hence, protecting your hearing and seeking treatment sooner than later is crucial to your well-being.