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The state of your balance

Dizzy feelings and spinning surroundings may signal a balance disorder.

By Joan Teotico

AUGUST 2012 

Michael Caampued, M.D., a municipal health officer in the Department of Health and Polillo Local Government Unit, was 19 years old when his world spun out of control. He was working out on a treadmill, and “…when I attempted to stop, the surroundings kept moving. At that time, I thought I was only hypoglycemic or something.” Days before the incident at the gym, he was already hearing a repetitive dial tone-like sound in his right ear. Dr. Caampued continues, “After several episodes of vomiting and later being sent to the hospital, I knew it was something else.” That something else turned out to be a balance disorder.

The balance system

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), a balance disorder is a condition that makes you feel unsteady or dizzy, as if you are moving, spinning, or floating, even though you are standing still or lying down. Dr. Caampued describes it as, “During [a] vertigo attack, when my eyes are open, my vision [is] spinning, but when I close them, I [am] the one spinning.” Balance disorders can be caused by certain health conditions, medications, or a problem in the inner ear or brain.

“Our ear is one of the organs that maintain our balance,” explains Ernest Manas, M.D., ears, nose and throat specialist and a head and neck surgeon in Asian Hospital and Medical Center. Certain parts of the inner ear—the labyrinth, semicircular canals and cochlea, all of which form the vestibular system—work together to keep us balanced and steady. The brain, eyes and joints also help keep our balance and posture. According to Dr. Manas, the brain receives, coordinates and integrates information from the ears, eyes and joints.

The NIDCD enumerates the following symptoms of balance disorders:

• dizziness or vertigo (a spinning sensation);

• falling or feeling as if you are going to fall;

• lightheadedness, faintness or a floating sensation;

• blurred vision;

• confusion or disorientation; and

• other symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and fear, anxiety, or panic. Dr. Manas points out that patients usually see their ENTs because of dizziness and vertigo.

What tips the balance

There are many types of balance disorders, and one of the common ones is Ménière’s disease. According to the NIDCD, it is a disorder of the inner ear that causes severe dizziness (vertigo), ringing in the ears (tinnitus), hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness or congestion in the ear. Ménière’s disease usually affects only one ear.

Dr. Caampued, who is now 28 years old, was diagnosed with this condition. “Ménière’s [disease] is a basket-case diagnosis, so after everything else was ruled out, my hearing test showing mild right-sided hearing loss, and my symptoms of tinnitus and vertigo led my ENT to diagnose me with the disease. The cause was idiopathic. We really did not know, especially for my age. Maybe it was from a previous inner ear infection,” he says.

Head injuries, medications and ear infections caused by a virus or bacteria may cause balance disorders. However, there are cases when a person gets a balance disorder without any apparent cause.

If you are experiencing dizziness or spinning sensations, don’t take them lightly. These symptoms may indicate a balance condition, for which you should see your doctor immediately. Ensuring our balance system is healthy keeps us steady, and our world less shaky.

Balance disorders are difficult to diagnose. The Videonystagmography (VNG) machine in Asian Hospital and Medical Center’s Hearing and Dizziness Unit provides a comprehensive battery of tests for diagnosing a wide range of balance and dizziness disorders. To know more about this, email, or grab a copy of the August issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.

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