Balance Problems

Treatment and Research

Your doctor can recommend strategies to help reduce the effects of a balance disorder. Scientists are studying ways to develop new, more effective methods to treat and prevent balance disorders.

Balance disorders can be signs of other health problems, such as an ear infection, stroke, or multiple sclerosis. In some cases, you can help treat a balance disorder by seeking medical treatment for the illness that is causing the disorder.

Exercises for Balance Disorders

Some exercises help make up for a balance disorder by moving the head and body in certain ways. The exercises are developed especially for a patient by a professional who understands the balance system and its relationship with other systems in the body.

In benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced, causing dizziness. Your doctor or otolaryngologist can treat BPPV by carefully moving the head and torso to dislodge these particles. For some people, one session will be all that is needed. Others might need to repeat the procedure several times at home to relieve their dizziness.

Treating Ménière's Disease

Ménière's disease is caused by changes in fluid volumes in the inner ear. People with Ménière's disease can help reduce its dizzying effects by lowering the amount of sodium, or salt (sodium) in their diets. Limiting alcohol or caffeine also may be helpful.

Medications such as corticosteroids and the antibiotic gentamicin are used to treat Ménière's disease. Although gentamicin can help reduce the dizziness that occurs with Ménière's disease, it occasionally destroys sensory cells in the inner ear which can result in permanent hearing loss. Corticosteroids don't cause hearing loss; however, research is underway to determine if they are as effective as gentamicin.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve a balance disorder.

Current Research

Scientists are working to understand the complex interactions between the brain and the part of the inner ear responsible for balance. They are also studying the effectiveness of certain exercises as a treatment option for balance disorders.

In a study funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), researchers created a “virtual reality” grocery store. This virtual store is a computer-simulated environment that seems to be a physical place in the real world, designed so people with balance disorders can safely walk on a treadmill as they practice looking for items on store shelves. The goal is to help reduce a person's dizziness in confusing environments.

NIDCD-supported scientists are also studying the use of a vestibular implant to stop a Ménière’s attack by restoring normal electrical activity in the vestibular nerve. This nerve conveys balance information to the brain. The device uses the same technology found in a cochlear implant, a medical device that currently provides a sense of sound to people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

An NIDCD-supported clinical trial in benign paroxysmal positioning vertigo (BPPV) showed that repositioning maneuvers work well, and offered clinicians a range of choices in selecting the treatment best suited to each individual’s unique needs.