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How Our Balance System Works

Our eyes, inner ear, muscles, and joints help us stay balanced. Balance problems make it hard to get through the day. See your doctor if you have balance problems. An audiologist can help test your balance. 

Your balance system helps you stand, walk, run, and move without falling. Your eyes, inner ear, and muscles and joints send signals to your brain. These signals help you stay balanced. This system of signals is your vestibular system.  

Diagram - AllThe Inner Ear 

There are three loops in your inner ear, called semicircular canals. One canal senses up-and-down movement. Another canal senses side-to-side movement. The third canal senses tilting movements. Each canal has hair cells and fluid inside. When you move, the fluid and hair cells move. The hair cells send messages to your brain through the acoustic nerve. Your brain uses this information to help you know where you are in space.  

Parts of your inner ear also tell your brain about where your head is when you are not moving. They tell your brain when you move straight, like in a car, or when you go up and down, like in an elevator.   

You use this information, along with what you see and feel, to keep your balance. Inner ear trouble can lead to balance problems. You should see your doctor if you have balance problems or feel dizzy. Your doctor may send you to have your balance tested. 

Balance Testing 

Balance testing can help figure out the cause of your problems. The tests can tell where the problems are in your ears. Your doctor can do some of the tests in an office or in the hospital. Other tests need special equipment that is in an audiology office or clinic.  

Treating Dizziness and Balance 

Dizziness and balance problems do not happen by themselves. They are symptoms of another problem. It is important to find out the cause. You should get emergency care right away if you have problems like these: 

  • Chest pains
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms or legs 
  • Falling or problems walking 
  • Weakness in your arms or legs
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden hearing loss 
  • Severe neck stiffness
  • Head trauma or injury
  • High fever

Medicines or surgery may not clear up your dizziness or balance problems. You may need balance treatment, called vestibular rehabilitation

See ASHA information for professionals on the Practice Portal's Balance System Disorders page. 

To find an audiologist near you, visit ProFind.

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