By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Balance disorders are a variety of diseases and disorders that affect the inner ear or the brain. These conditions may also be caused as a side effect of several chemicals and medications. Scientists are researching the various underlying pathologies that may give rise to balance problems.
The areas of research include the complex interactions between the balance-sensing organs, vision, labyrinth and the brain.
Age and balance
Researchers are looking at how advanced age is affecting normal balance. With the increase in the elderly population due to longer life expectancies these areas of research are gaining importance.
More elderly are suffering from an impaired quality of life due to impaired mobility, lack of motor co-ordination and inability to lead an independent life.
Vision and balance disorders
The correlation between vision and balance disorders is also an important area of research. Researchers are looking at disease and injuries of the eyes and the nerves that connect the balance organs, eyes and the brain. Researchers are looking at eye movement and posture changes that may affect balance.
Pathological diseases of the inner ear and balance disorders
Pathological diseases of the inner ear and long term consequences of ear infections and brain infections like meningitis and encephalitis are also an area of research.
Genetic causation of ear problems and subsequent balance problems in some diseases and disorders are being studied widely all over the world.
Treatments of balance disorders
The other part of research focuses on treatments of balance disorders. In addition, there are studies supported by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) that also show that the vestibular system plays an important role in modulating blood pressure. This could help in management of posture related fall of blood pressure called orthostatic hypotension.
Orthostatic hypotension refers to sudden fall of blood pressure when an individual changes his or her position from sitting to standing or lying to sitting. This leads to severe dizziness and balance problems.
Studies on otolithic organs
There are studies that explore otolithic organs within the inner ears that detect linear movement. It is being studied how these organs differentiate between downward (gravitational) motion from linear (forward-backward or side-to side) motion.
Exercises as a treatment
Several researchers are working on the effectiveness of certain exercises as a treatment option. Strategies for new physical rehabilitation are also under investigation in clinical and research settings.
NIDCD, along with other Institutes at the National Institutes of Health, joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for Neurolab are studying exposure to the weightlessness of space and balance changes associated with the condition.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: May 26, 2013