Understanding Different Types of Hearing Loss

The Auditory-Vestibular Connection

  • Inner Ear Components: Cochlea (hearing) and vestibular system (balance) share close proximity and make up the inner ear.
  • Vestibular Organs: Semicircular canals detect angular motion and otolith organs detect linear (horizontal and vertical) motion and gravity. Their primary function is to stabilise vision and maintain postural control and stability.
  • Vestibulocochlear Nerve: Carries signals from both auditory and vestibular organs to the brain.

Common Balance Disorders

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): Dislodged crystals move through semicircular canals, simulating movement and causing brief episodes of vertigo triggered by head and body movements.
  • Meniere’s Disease: Excess fluid buildup in the inner ear causes episodes of severe vertigo which last 1 – 12 hours, as well as hearing loss, tinnitus, and pressure in the ears.
  • Vestibular Neuritis: Inflammation of the vestibular nerve causes severe vertigo and imbalance which can last 2 to 24 hours. This is usually a result of a viral infection.
  • Labyrinthitis: Inflammation of the inner ear causes an episode of severe vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus. This needs to be treated quickly and effectively, otherwise the symptoms of hearing loss and tinnitus can persist for life. This is also usually a result of viral infections.

Impact on Daily Life

  • Dizziness and Vertigo: Sudden spinning sensations or persistent unsteadiness.
  • Imbalance: Difficulty walking, standing, or maintaining posture.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Common during vertigo episodes.
  • Cognitive Impacts: Concentration and memory challenges due to disrupted sensory input.
  • Development of maladaptive behaviours due to persistent dizziness can lead to social withdrawal, anxiety and depression.

Diagnosis and Treatment

  • Audiology Evaluation: Assess both hearing and balance functions.
  • Video head impulse test: Measures eye movement during fast, sharp head movements to assess the function of the semicircular canals
  • Videonystagmography (VNG): Measures specific types of eye movements to detect peripheral and central vestibular problems.
  • Vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (VEMPs): Assess the function of the otolith organs and their reflex arcs.
  • Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy (VRT): Specific exercises which target the dysfunctional vestibular organs to improve function.
  • Medication: Prescription drugs to manage symptoms, especially in Meniere’s disease.

Preventive Measures

  • Protect Hearing: Address hearing loss promptly to maintain inner ear health.
  • Hygiene: Proper ear hygiene minimizes infection risk.
  • Head Trauma: Prevent injuries that can affect the auditory and balance systems.
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Regular exercise, balanced diet, and stress management support overall well-being.

The intricate relationship between the auditory and balance systems highlights the importance of maintaining inner ear health for a harmonious life. By understanding the connection and seeking early diagnosis and treatment, individuals can navigate balance disorders, regain stability, and embrace a world of equilibrium.