Managing Balance Problems
Balance problems can be frightening because they often increase the risk of a fall, which can have serious consequences including breaking a hip. People are more likely to have problems with balance as they get older. But age is not the only reason these problems occur; there are other causes, too. In some cases, you can help reduce your risk for certain balance problems. Here, experts from the SeniorHealth Division of the National Institutes of Health (https://www.nih.gov) talk about understanding and managing balance problems:
Problems in the Inner Ear
Some balance disorders are caused by problems in the inner ear. The part of the inner ear that is responsible for balance is the vestibular system, also known as the labyrinth. When the labyrinth becomes infected or swollen, this condition is called labyrinthitis. It is typically accompanied by vertigo and imbalance.
Upper respiratory infections and other viral infections, and, less commonly, bacterial infections, can lead to labyrinthitis.
Other balance disorders may originate elsewhere, such as the brain or the heart. For example, diseases of the circulatory system, such as stroke, can cause dizziness and other balance problems. Smoking and diabetes can increase the risk of stroke. Low blood pressure can also cause dizziness.
Aging, infections, head injury and many medicines may also result in a balance problem.
Problems Caused by Medications
Balance problems can also result from taking many medications. For example, some medicines, such as those that help lower blood pressure, can make a person feel dizzy.
Ototoxic drugs are medicines that damage the inner ear. If your medicine is ototoxic, you may feel off balance. Sometimes the damage lasts only as long as you take the drug; many times it is permanent.
Groups of drugs that are more likely to be ototoxic include
anti-seizure drugs (anticonvulsants)
hypertensive (high blood pressure) drugs
anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
aminoglycosides (a type of antibiotic)
certain analgesics (painkillers)
certain chemotherapeutics (anti-cancer drugs).
Check with your doctor if you notice a problem while taking a medication. Ask if other medications can be used instead. If not, ask if the dosage can be safely reduced. Sometimes it cannot. However, your doctor will help you get the medication you need while trying to reduce unwanted side effects.
Diet and Lifestyle Can Help
Your diet and lifestyle can help you manage certain balance-related problems. For example, Ménière’s disease, which causes vertigo and other balance and hearing problems, is linked to a change in the volume of fluid in the inner ear. By eating low-salt (low-sodium) or salt-free foods, and steering clear of caffeine and alcohol, you may make Ménière’s disease symptoms less severe.
Balance problems due to high blood pressure can be managed by eating less salt (less sodium), maintaining a healthy weight, and exercising. Balance problems due to low blood pressure may be managed by drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, avoiding alcohol, and being cautious regarding your body’s posture and movement, such as standing up slowly and avoiding crossing your legs when you’re seated.
Prevent Ear Infections
The ear infection called otitis media is common in children, but adults can get it too. Otitis media can sometimes cause dizziness. You can help prevent otitis media by washing your hands frequently. Also, talk to your doctor about getting a yearly flu shot to stave off flu-related ear infections. If you still get an ear infection, see a doctor immediately before it becomes more serious.
For more information on this and other issues related to senior health, visit https://nihseniorhealth.gov.