Dizziness and balance problems can happen in any age group. Some children are born without a healthy balance system and have walking and other developmental issues in early childhood. Equally, our body’s balance system does not get any healthier as we grow older. There are some specific issues that occur in people who are over 65 years of age. Sometime balance issues arise in healthy individuals due to common and uncommon infections such as Cold, surgeries, trauma, some diseases affecting other parts of body, and crystals in the ear. Once diagnosed properly, many of balance problems can be very effectively managed in the clinics and the patients do not have to suffer from the ongoing issues that are generally debilitating, life-changing and isolating. Also, easy-to-do daily 5 minutes of balance exercises can help you improve your balance function and keep it healthy. These exercises should actually be taught at our schools and all young and old; children and adults should do them.
At Audiology Planet, we provide a comprehensive service for Balance and Dizziness Problems. Click here to get in touch.
HOW DO WE BALANCE OUR BODY
Human balance system is very cleverly designed. If you believe in theory of evolution- the balance system would have had to evolve a great deal when our ancestor monkeys decided to jump from the trees and walk on the ground. Obviously, it is harder to balance on two feet than four. That is why robotic engineers took so long to develop a robot that could walk on two feet and climb up the stares.
Anyhow, we have three main sensory systems that help the brain to balance our body.
VISION: Eyes are one of the main systems of course. Vision provides us an orientation with respect to the space around us. Imagine yourself walking in a very dark and unknown room- you will realise how much you realise on your eyes for the balance. Without vision- we do not have a perspective of the fabric of the space around us. Also, the fact that we have eyes in the front of the face and not on the sides (like some animals)- it means that two eyes work together to give us a binocular vision that is very important for depth perception amongst other things. Each individual eye makes its own image of the object in the front and due to the angle between the two eyes we get a better sense of the world in front of us. Predatory animals use this feature to assess the distance of their prey whereas herbivorous animals generally have eyes on the sides, g of the face giving them more sort of 360 degree panoramic view of the environment to notice the predators coming towards them.
TOUCH: Again, imagine yourself in a complete dark room where you have not been before and you do not know the layout of the furniture and walls etc. Your sense of touch is what will help you to walk in that room. Sense of touch, also called ‘proprioception’ is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. The brain integrates information from proprioception and from the ear’s balance system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration. By the way, the neck muscles and sole of the feet provide important proprioceptive information to brain about the position of head in the space and if the surface we are on is soft or hard (to adjust the ‘gait’ i.e. distance between two feet).
EARS: Lot of people do not realise that ears are one of the vital systems for balancing our body. The tiny inside of the ears have five sub-systems each to help the brain to get information to keep us from being reptiles. Three tiny tubes (called semi-circular canals) filled with watery fluid are present in three different dimensions in each ear. Every time the head moves in the space, the fluid in the tubes move and that movement of fluid generates electric signal, which is carried to the brain via balance nerve (known as vestibular nerve). Brain senses the movement of the head and corrects eye position accordingly so, if the head is moving to the right, eyes have to move it to the left (try and see yourself moving head side to side in the mirror!). This is why, you can move your head from side to side and still see things/people in front of you clearly. However, you shake a camera and take a picture, you will find the picture all blurred. Clearly, the camera doesn’t have ears or brain to sort out its focus.
The two other sub-systems that sense gravity and linear acceleration are known as utricle and saccule. Because of their orientation in the head, the utricle is sensitive to a change in horizontal movement, and the saccule gives information about vertical acceleration (such as when in an elevator). Lately, there has been lots of exciting research done on the function and assessment of these subsystems, which is further helping the balance specialists and patients alike to manage the disorders of balance system.
WHAT IS DIZZINESS OR BALANCE PROBLEM
Dizziness is quite a general term to explain the feeling that there is something wrong with our sense of balance. Most of us find it very difficult to explain exactly how the dizziness or balance problem makes them feel.
Different people will have different kind of balance issue. A few terms used in this regards are:
“…light-headedness, fuzziness, giddiness, feeling off-balance, rocking on a boat, feeling as if head or everything around is spinning, feeling like being tipsy all the time, feeling wobbly, feeling like walking on mattress or other soft surface like cotton or on the clouds, feeling like just been on a ride or merry-go-round”
Some people and professionals like GP’s will describe the dizziness problems as ‘vertigo’. Vertigo is generally used to describe any form of dizziness but it mean any sense of moving even when the person is still.
Some people have balance issues all the time whether they are still or active, others will have balance problems when they are standing up, walking or doing some activity (walking along the supermarket aisle, driving etc.). There is a special kind of balance problem known as BPPV, that results in spinning sensation every time you bend down, look up, take turn in the bed and look to one direction. This is largely readily treatable issue and balance specialists can perform an assessment and management ‘positioning manoeuvre’ in the outpatient clinic to treat it.
DURATION AND FREQUENCY OF SYMPTOMS
The time pattern of balance issues varies from person to person. Some time it only happens for a few seconds (couple of seconds or more) a few times a day or week. However, some people can suffer from symptoms continuously from few minutes to few days as well. It mainly depends on what kind of balance and dizziness issue you have.
IS IT SERIOUS?
The short answer is NO. Most dizziness and balance problems are not diseases themselves and are a symptom of distinct conditions or causes-just as a cough is a symptom of sore throat and fever is a symptom of possible infection. Rarely, dizziness will be a result of a serious problem, which needs to be ruled out via investigations.
HOW IS IT ASSESSED
Balance services are often provided by a team of professionals. Although the basic principles of assessment remain the same but the assessment techniques vary slightly in case of children and adults. There are standardised procedures available to measure balance in babies, older children and adults.
At Audiology Planet, we have state-of-art balance assessment equipment known as VNG and Caloric computer. This involves a special software and hardware, which is connected with an infrared goggles on the eyes. The goggles can read the movement of eyes within a few degrees of angle and can show traces on the computer.
HOW IS IT MANAGED
The first thing to note here is that medicines not only not help many people with dizziness disorders but also are sometime counter productive. This is particularly true for ear related dizziness issues. Medicines can notoriously stop the brain’s process of correcting balance and dizziness problems when the dizziness is coming from the ears. Therefore, it is really important that the cause of dizziness is investigated by a qualified professional before the management is started.
Although often a debilitating and limiting condition, more often than not, dizziness is self limiting and with appropriate guidance your brain can recuperate the balance function. Most patients will have to go through a regime of easy therapy directed at their specific problem to have a long-lasting healing process. There has been a lot of research in the area of balance rehabilitation using the video games such as Nintendo Wii. Wii balance board is now routinely used in balance rehabilitation in clinics in America and UK. More information on this is available on request.
HOW TO KEEP BALANCE SYSTEM STRONG
Keeping a healthy routine and diet will always help you to have better bodily systems. Most people in UK and around the world are at risk of vitamin D deficiency that can affect the strength of body’s muscles and bones. So, it is one thing that all of us have to be conscious of and get checked from GP, should there be any concerns. Early diagnosis can facilitate an early treatment with vitamin supplements.
There are some easy, doable, and simple balance system exercises that all of us should do daily.
- One of the simplest exercises that works on the muscles and nerves maintaining our balance is- standing on one leg with eyes closed. Younger you are-better you will be with it. You can make it a party trick with a bunch of your friends where each one take their turns. Most people will start with standing still with feet joined for about 10 seconds. Then you can stand in the same position but with eyes closed for 10 seconds. The third step is to stand on one leg and the fourth step is to stand on one leg with your eyes closed. You may have to take some time to build up your balance system to be able to do it. Once you can- do it for about 30 seconds on each leg, twice a day. It is a very power exercise that can help you in long-term for two minutes spent everyday on it. The next level of this exercise will be to stand on a pillow on one leg and eyes closed. Most people will fall when they try it for the first time. It is, in fact, users responsibility to make the environment safe and keep yourself safe while doing these exercises. Audiology Planet will NOT take any responsibility for injuries or dysfunction resulting from an attempt to perform the exercises. If you are unsure about it, please seek professional help.
- One other quick and easy exercise is to sit and read a book, computer or anything moving your head side to side. You can do that for 2-5 minutes, twice a day. You can also try to read moving the head up and down as well to make it more effective.
- Wii balance board and wii fit helps the balance system. The exercises on this can be modified slightly to get maximum benefit out it. The only general rule here is try to think a way where some of the exercises can be altered to make body balance more challenging.
- There is credible evidence that regular Tai-Chi, Pilates and Yoga help the balance system immensely so, try an get involved with one of those activities once a week or so.
- For children, walking in the soft play areas or balance beam in the park with eyes closed; or some made-to-do balance exercises will help e.g. making them stand on a pillow with eyes closed. Children enjoy this sort of thing very much.
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