When it comes to balance, not so many people are aware that ears have a role to play. Ears help to maintain balance through the vestibulocochlear nerve. The ears are not the only organs that help us to balance. Muscles, joints, eyes and ears work together to keep us upright and steady. If any of these systems seize to function properly, simplest things like playing, walking, riding, running, even swimming can be difficult and frustrating.
Balance disorder in children is considered uncommon. However, there are a few cases where symptoms of balance disorder are misdiagnosed as something else or missed, affecting the overall quality of a child’s life. A child with a balance disorder is unable to learn, play, and feel as healthy and happy as possible.
How Balance Works
In order to understand the problems related to balance, it is important to know how balance works normally. There are 3 separate systems that the body relies on to send nerve impulses to the brain:
- The pressure sensors. These are found in the feet, leg joints, torso and neck. They send information to the brain when we do things like walk on different surfaces, move or turn our heads.
- Semicircular canals found in the rear of cochlea. The cochlea is found in front of the inner ear and it connects to the semicircular canals through the vestibule. The cochlea is involved in hearing while the canals affect balance. When the body makes any sudden movements, the liquid found in the semicircular canals sends a message through the vestibulocochlear nerve to the brain and in turn, the brain send messages to specific muscles involved to maintain balance.
- The optic nerve. This is found in the eyes. When you see images, the optic nerve sends electric signals to the brain. The brain is then able to interpret different images like distance and depth which is vital to maintaining balance.
Symptoms Of A Balance Disorder
When children suffer from balance disorder, they have difficulty maintaining orientation. There are severe cases of balance disorder where a child is not able to move in darkness or maintain stability on different surface levels. Some children experience room spinning and cannot walk without staggering. In other cases, balance disorder can cause vision problems. In this case, when a child moves his or her head, images appear blurry or seem like they are bouncing which makes it hard to read and write.
Types Of Balance Disorders
- Labyrinthitis– This is caused by an inflammation or infection of the middle ear causing loss of balance and dizziness.
- Ménière’s disease– This is a middle ear fluid balance disorder that causes the sensation of fullness in the ear, tinnitus, fluctuating hearing loss and episodes of vertigo.
- Perilymph fistula– This is caused when there is a leakage of the inner ear fluid to the middle ear.
- Vestibular neuronitis– Brought about by a viral infection in the vestibular nerve.
Treating Balance Disorders
When it comes to diagnosing and treating balance disorders, a series of tests have to be carried out first because other medical conditions such as vision problems, blood pressure changes and ear infections may be a contributing factor. You need to seek the opinion of a pediatric otolaryngologist who will carry out a series of tests on your child to find the possible causes of the balance disorder. Once the root cause of the balance disorder has been located, the doctor will treat the condition to ensure your child goes back to normal living.