An Overview of Balance Problems


A problem with balance can result in symptoms that range from mild to severe. You may feel dizzy or unstable while standing, sitting, or laying down, or you might have the perception that the room is spinning or that you may fall over if you are in the middle of walking. Such sensations may be temporary. Even so, these symptoms shouldn’t be ignored, especially if you experience them on a recurring basis.

Signs of a Possible Balance Disorder

The most common symptom of a balance problem is vertigo, or a sense of being off balance. It may be experienced as a sudden sense of spinning or falling. Additional symptoms related to balance disorders may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Feeling of faintness
  • Disequilibrium (loss of balance)
  • Sensations similar to motion sickness (as experienced when on a boat)
  • Dizziness

Common Sources of Balance Problems

Most balance problems are related to issues with the vestibular system, a sensory system in the inner ear that controls motion, equilibrium, and spatial orientation. Attempts at making a diagnosis often focus on common sources of balance problems, one of which is disturbances to the part of the brain that controls the inner ear or problems within the inner ear itself (central or peripheral vestibular disorders). Issues within the brain or connecting nerves and problems with blood flow to the brain in the vascular system may also affect balance.

Common Balance-Related Conditions

Benign positional vertigo is a brief sensation (often less than a minute) of vertigo. Caused by the displacement of tiny crystals in the inner ear, it’s usually triggered when the head is in certain positions.

A virus-based inner ear infection known as labyrinthitis may contribute to balance problems. Symptoms usually include some degree of hearing loss and extreme dizziness. Vestibular neuronitis is a similar infection that may result in vertigo lasting for a few weeks without hearing loss.

Characterized by sudden and severe vertigo, Meniere’s disease may produce buzzing or ringing sensations in the ears (tinnitus). It may also lead to fluctuating hearing loss and other problems.

Affecting eye movement and balance, a vestibular migraine often produces headaches that may include ear pain and pressure. Related symptoms sometimes include vertigo, blurry vision, and queasiness.

If you are experiencing a balance problem, an ear, nose, and throat specialist can perform tests to rule out certain possible sources or confirm an issue that’s suspected based on your presented symptoms and medical history. Fortunately, many common balance problems related to the inner ear can be effectively managed or treated.