The Role of Ears in the Balance System

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Carli Van Harken
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Did you know that the role of our ears is crucial in our complex balance system? It is one part of many mechanisms that work together that form an intricate system to maintain the balance we need for everyday activities.

The eyes (visual input), inner ears (vestibular input) and the muscles and joints (proprioceptive input) work together to give the brain information regarding the position of the head and the feedback and adjustment necessary for us to maintain balance. The importance of the inner workings of the ear to maintain our balance is very intricate and must work with the aforementioned mechanisms in perfect tandem for our system of balance to work effectively.

Remember spinning around like a small child and being dizzy for a while after you stopped?

The inner ear mechanisms have a lot to do with how and why you felt dizzy!

Where is the inner ear and what does it do?

The inner ear is located in the farthest part of the ear directly underneath the brain and its specific purpose is to communicate the position of the head to the cerebellum. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls our body’s movement. There are three small connected tubes that make up the mechanism for balance in the inner ear (vestibular system). They look like semicircular canals. Along the walls of these small “tubes” are linings of tiny hairs known as “cilia”.

As we move our head around the fluid in the canals move in the same direction as well. The cilia are alerted by the movement of the fluid as to the position of the head and they transmit the information through two vestibular nerves to the brain. The vestibular system is composed of two otolith organs called the saccule and utricle and the three semicircular canals.

The saccule and utricle or balance organs contain crystals that are displaced with the movement of the head which in turn alerts the cilia. This allows the cilia to transmit constant detailedfeedback through the vestibular nerves to the cerebellum about any position or direction of the head.

Using the feedback sent via the vestibular system the brain interprets the information and sends messages to the joints and muscles (proprioceptive system) to make the necessary and continual adjustments to maintain balance.

The vestibulocochlear nerve is made up of the auditory nerve and the vestibular nerves and connects directly to the brain. The auditory nerve is attached to the cochlea that is shaped like a snail and is a part of the inner ear. The cochlea is also filled with fluid and cilia. Sound is funneled from the outer ear to the inner ear.

When sound frequencies travel into the cochlea and the fluid moves, they stimulate the cilia. The cilia then carry the sound information from the cochlea of the inner ear through the auditory nerve into the brain.

Remember back to being a child and spinning? The motion of the fluid in your inner ear continued after you stopped spinning thereby giving you the dizzy sensation. That sensation stopped once the fluid settled.

Balance Disorders

If there is any cause for concern regarding your balance, there are many different possible causes and an assessment is in order.  Whether it be ear infections to ear inflammations to ringing in the ears to dizziness to vertigo the symptoms require an informed evaluation.

A hearing test is usually conducted and if necessary, an Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test may follow. This test is non-invasive and records the brains response to stimuli in a sound booth. The data collected by the test is then collected, interpreted and analyzed by a hearing health specialist for any abnormalities.

Comprehensive Ear and Hearing

At Comprehensive Ear and Hearing, we are here to accommodate your needs and look forward to helping you with your hearing health.  Symptoms or signs of any kind that put your hearing at risk can be evaluated and a suitable treatment procured.  Quell your concerns and don’t wait any longer to attend to a vital part of your overall health. Call and make an appointment for yourself or a loved one and we can begin to secure a future in a healthy and fulfilling hearing experience right away.