Hearing loss and balance issues very often appear together. So, is there a direct connection between them? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. To start understanding that, let’s look at the biology involved, which takes us through the ear canal and beyond the eardrum, to the inner ear.
Arriving at the inner ear, you’ll find a bony structure that looks a bit like a stone, with hollow loops running in and out of it. That structure is home to the cochlea and the vestibular systemThe Inner Ear The inner ear is also known as the bony labyrinth, and it consists of both the cochlea and the vestibular system.
What is the cochlea?The cochlea is a hearing mechanism. Vibrations that begin at the eardrum and make their way through your three, tiny ossicle bones, are picked up by the cochlea. There, they are turned into electrical impulses that passed on to your brain, which recognizes them as sound.
What is the vestibular system?The vestibular system is a balance mechanism. Sharing space with the cochlea is a trio of canals and two sacs that, working in concert with one another, let your brain know what angle it is sitting at, when it is in motion and the manner in which it is moving.
Are they related?Given the proximity of the cochlea and the vestibular system, it stands to reason that they may have some common enemies. But what affects one doesn’t always affect the other. A look at some inner-ear issues can help in understanding that:
Noise-induced hearing lossThe hair cells, inside the cochlea, that create electrical impulses for the brain, can become damaged and/or die due to the assault of overly-loud sound. The result is a shortage of information, or disrupted information, being sent to the brain. That’s an inner ear issue, but one that is restricted to the cochlea; it doesn’t tend to have an effect on your balance.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigoSince this isn’t medical school, let’s just call this BPPV. Essentially causing people to have dizzy spells, BPPV has no connection to hearing loss. The two vestibular sacs we mentioned earlier contain a gel-like fluid (endolymph) that suspends a cluster of microscopic crystals (otoconia). Reacting to gravity, those crystals let the brain know when the body speeds up or slows down.
In BPPV, some of those crystals move out of place, interfering with the flow of fluid in the canals surrounding the sacs. When that happens, your brain begins receiving bad information about your balance, resulting in dizziness. It happens in the inner ear. It involves sending faulty information to the brain. But it has nothing to do with the cochlea and hearing.
Then there’s Ménière’s disease
Here’s one of those times when the loss of hearing and affected balance go hand-in-hand. Hearing and balance problems happening at the same time is the primary indication of Ménière’s disease.
In Ménière’s, a build-up of fluid inside the structures of your inner ear causes pressure that interferes with both the hearing and balance mechanisms, affecting both the sound and balance information being sent to the brain.
Those are just three scenarios that can occur in a highly complex part of the human body. Both hearing and balance issues can have a lot of different factors involved. It requires the expertise of certified hearing health professionals like you’ll find at Arnold Hearing Centres, to assess your personal situation. So, if you’re experiencing a problem with your hearing and/or balance, please contact us right away.