hearing aids being used by senior couple golfing
hearing aids being used by senior couple playing golf

Hearing Loss and Balance: What’s the Connection?

Over the last few decades, doctors and researchers have been studying hearing loss extensively, uncovering its various effects on life and health. For example, they’ve looked into connections between hearing loss and conditions like dementia or heart disease. Nowadays, we understand that hearing loss can have significant impacts on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. But did you know hearing loss and balance go hand in hand? Let’s explore why and how.

Hearing Loss Explained

As we age or are exposed to loud noises, the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea responsible for transmitting sound signals to the brain may undergo wear and tear.

When these hairs or nerve cells become damaged or are missing, they are unable to effectively transmit electrical signals, resulting in hearing loss. This can manifest as a perception of muffled, higher-pitched tones.

When it comes to age-related hearing loss, many of us experience a gradual decline in our hearing abilities, a condition referred to as presbycusis. This phenomenon is quite common, with more than half of individuals aged 75 or older in the United States encountering some degree of hearing difficulty.

There are three primary forms of hearing loss:

  • Conductive hearing loss arises from issues within the outer or middle ear.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs within the inner ear.
  • Mixed hearing loss involves a combination of both types.

Factors such as aging and exposure to loud noises can significantly impact our hearing abilities. Additionally, excessive earwax accumulation can lead to temporary hearing impairment. Regrettably, once hearing is compromised, it is typically irreversible.

However, there are methods to enhance your auditory perception and improve the quality of what you can hear. And understanding the relationship between hearing loss and balance is crucial for gaining extensive insight into how our sensory functions intertwine and impact our balance.

Balance Explained

Your body’s ability to stay balanced relies on signals sent to your brain about movement and your position in relation to your surroundings. These signals are integrated by your brain, which then sends instructions to your muscles to help you maintain balance.

There are three sensory systems that play a role in managing your balance:

  • Vision
  • Proprioception – This involves sensors in your skin, muscles, and joints that detect movement
  • Inner ears – Specifically, the vestibular system, which includes three fluid-filled loops called semicircular canals that respond to head rotation. Additionally, near these canals are the utricle and saccule, which sense gravity and back-and-forth motion.

Having at least two of these sensory systems functioning well is crucial for good balance. If one system isn’t working properly, the other two systems work together to keep you steady.

However, if the brain struggles to process signals from these systems, or if the messages are disrupted, you may experience difficulties maintaining balance. This brings us to explain how balance and our ears depend on each other and how without good hearing, individuals may experience vestibular problems.

How Your Hearing Affects Your Balance

When it comes to your hearing and balance, two main players are your cochlea and vestibular system. They team up to make sure you hear well and stay steady on your feet. But if one has problems, it can mess up the other, leading to balance issues.

Additionally, hearing loss doesn’t just affect how well you hear sounds. It also messes with how your brain processes information from your surroundings. Sound helps your brain understand where you are in space.

So when your hearing isn’t working right, your brain gets confused and receives puzzling signals. This can make it harder for you to keep your balance because your brain can’t figure out where you are.

In short, the connection between hearing and balance is pretty complicated. If something goes wrong with your hearing, it can throw off your balance, too. This shows how closely linked these senses are in your inner ear.

Common Vestibular Balance Disorders

Dizziness and vertigo are symptoms of a vestibular balance disorder. Balance disorders can strike at any age but are most common as you get older.

Your ear is a complex system of bone and cartilage, and within it is a network of canals. These are called semicircular canals. The canals are filled with fluid. The position of the fluid changes with movement. A sensor in the ear then sends the information to your brain to contribute to your sense of balance. These and other delicate pieces make up the vestibular system.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of vestibular balance disorders encompass:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling unsteady
  • Sensation of floating or spinning
  • Blurred vision
  • Disorientation
  • Falling or stumbling

You may need to see an ear, nose, throat specialist or otolaryngologist. They may perform the following to examine your health after assessing your medical history:

  • A hearing exam
  • A vision exam
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests of the head and brain
  • Clinical tests of balance
  • Look at your posture and movement, using a structured exam called a posturography

Can Hearing Aids Help With Balance And Other Vestibular Disorders?

Studies indicate that hearing aids can positively impact balance. For instance, a research study investigated the influence of hearing aids on postural stability among elderly individuals with hearing impairments. The findings revealed that participants who utilized hearing aids experienced enhancements in static balance function.

If you’re having trouble with your balance and aren’t sure why, it might be a good idea to chat with a hearing specialist and have a hearing test. Dealing with hearing loss is tough on its own, and feeling off-balance or dizzy can add to the stress.

Schedule an appointment with your local Beltone today.

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