If you’ve ever tapped your foot or sang out loud when Aerosmith’s rock ‘n roll classic “Walk This Way” played on the radio, you’re hardly alone. The two-measure drumbeat and an irresistible guitar riff are enough to inspire anybody to start swingin’ like they just don’t care! But have you ever wondered how, exactly, you’re able to walk – this way, or any way, for that matter? It’s all thanks to a marvelously efficient process made possible by the vestibular system.
Taking Balance for Granted
Most individuals in Reno never give balance a second thought, taking it for granted in much the same way as breathing. Unless we’re traversing an icy trail or there’s an errant banana peel in our way, we’re pretty sure we can get from Point A to Point B without falling. That all changes when a balance disorder affects our equilibrium, increasing our risk of serious injury from a fall.
Proper balance is essential in keeping us upright. It allows us to see clearly while moving, orient ourselves in relation to gravity, determine direction and speed of movement, and automatically adjust to maintain posture and stability while coordinating movement with balance. All of this is accomplished courtesy of the vestibular system.
Anatomy of the Vestibular System
The vestibular system is a sensory system that provides us with a sense of balance and spatial orientation. It consists of two parts: the semicircular canals, three interconnected tubes in the inner ear that are filled with endolymphatic fluid and help detect rotational movement; and the otoliths, comprised of the saccule and utricle, organs that allow us to perceive linear acceleration. The vestibular system sends symmetrical impulses to the brain, enabling it to determine position and acceleration at any given moment. Along with sensory information from the eyes, muscles, and joints, we are able to maintain equilibrium.
Abnormalities in the vestibular system can result in conflicting sensory information, causing dizziness, vertigo, and other symptoms. Balance disorders including labyrinthitis, Meniere’s disease, and Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) may result. Dysfunction of the vestibular systems is also one of the leading causes of hearing loss in Reno, as these disorders can all lead to temporary or permanent hearing impairment. In order to diagnose and treat a balance problem, your Reno audiologist has a number of balance assessment tests at his or her disposal, including videonystagmogaphy, evoked potential tests, vestibulo-ocular reflex testing, and more.
If you’re experiencing unexplained bouts of dizziness or vertigo, you should make an appointment with a Reno audiologist to help keep you on your feet and avoid a potentially serious injury.