Feeling Dizzy? Evaluation of the Vestibular and Balance System
Feeling dizzy? You are not alone. It is estimated that at least half the population of the US will be affected by dizziness or balance problems during their lifetime. Balance disorders that cause dizziness may create a variety of problems including imbalance, disorientation and blurring of vision-all of which interfere with the quality of life and may lead to serious falls. Balance problems may occur suddenly or develop slowly over time. Dizziness affects all people in all age groups but is most prevalent in the elderly. Many dizzy patients may be helped through non-medical and non-surgical technique. There is no medication that effectively treats the complaints of dysequilibrium unsteadiness or imbalance. These problems require a thorough assessment of the balance system followed by customized treatment to address the specific symptom.
Most episodes of dizziness are associated with disorders of the balance mechanism or, as it is known in medical terms, the vestibular system. The vestibular system includes a network of complex interconnected pathways between the inner ear, the eyes, the brain, and the nerves of the spine. The vestibular system allows us to interact and maintain contact with our surroundings in a safe, efficient manner. When any part of the vestibular system malfunctions, a wide variety of potentially disabling symptoms may follow. In fact, the word dizziness describes many different symptoms, including:
- A sensation of spinning or rotation (vertigo)
- Feeling faint, particularly noticeable when standing (lightheadedness)
- Feeling disconnected from, and out of sync with, one’s environment (disorientation)
- Feeling off balance, unsteady, or the inability to walk a straight line (dysequilibrium)
- Decreased visual clarity associated with head movement (visual blurring)
- A sense of discomfort, even fear, of moving about in open, public spaces (anxiety)
- Falls, or even a serious stumble, which can reduce one’s mobility and sense of independence (fear of falling)
Oftentimes dizziness is caused by medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes or as a side effect of prescription medications. You should discuss your symptoms with your physician. If your dizziness, lightheadedness or feelings of dysequilibrium persist, your physician may refer you to an audiologist for a comprehensive evaluation of your problem and, if indicated, treatment to relieve your symptoms. The audiologist is an essential member of the healthcare team helping to identify the cause of your problem.
The Role of the Audiologist
Audiologists are the professionals dedicated to helping people with hearing and balance problems. As part of their scope of practice, audiologists are trained to understand vestibular malfunction, and many participate in the non-medical evaluation and treatment of patients who are experiencing dizziness. The audiologist’s evaluation of your dizziness and/or balance problem may use a number highly technical tests and procedures to identify the source of the problem:
- Advanced Diagnostic Hearing Test
- Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
- Videonystagmography (VNG)
- Electronystagmography (ENG)
- Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potentials (VEMPs)
- Dynamic Visual Acuity Testing
- Active Hearing Rotation (AHR)
- Electrocochlesgraphy (ECoG)
- Sensory Organization or Postural Stability Testing
- Rotary Chair
According to research studies, 85% of all dizziness and balance problems can be accurately diagnosed and successfully treated following a thorough evaluation. You don’t have to live with dizziness, lightheadedness or feelings of being off balance. Help is available. Contact your Tulsa Audiologist, The Hearing Doctor, if you have concerns with dizziness and/or balance problems.