While we will look at several reasons for balance problems, one is becoming more common quickly. The nerve damaging effects of diabetes and prediabetes that causes hearing loss can also cause balance problems. Over time, blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can damage nerves that affect your hearing and balance. It’s important to understand that hearing loss doesn’t cause balance disorders on its own. However, problems with the inner ear that are responsible for hearing loss may also affect a person’s ability to balance and cause fall injuries.
In 2017, 7.3% of Canadians aged 12 and older (roughly 2.3 million people) reported being diagnosed with diabetes – Statistics Canada
The Inner Ear and Balance
Without getting too technical, our sense of balance or vestibular system is comprised of several sub systems that are all linked together. The first, the inner ear is shown below. The inner ear’s “labyrinth system” is comprised of two sections. We have the vestibular section for balance on the top and the cochlea on the bottom that senses sound waves.
The inner ear’s labyrinth system is made up of semicircular ducts that sense the attitude of the body (upright or leaning) while the vestibular ducts sense our movement in 3d space.
The information from the labyrinth system is then interpreted along with our vision and somatosensory system (our body’s sense position and movement) to give us our overall sense of balance.
Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes as it is in people of the same age who don’t.
Where Damage Occurs
Inside the cochlea and vestibular duct are tiny hair cells that sense fluid moving by them. They translate mechanical movement into nerve impulses that become our hearing sounds and sensing movement. The two images below show the damage that occurs from loud noise and aging. Notice the neatly arranged regular patterns on the top image that are absent on the lower image. Once these tiny hair cells are damaged, they cannot grow back.
Not all people who suffer from balance disorders suffer from hearing loss, and not all people with hearing loss experience a noticeable loss of balance.
What Damages Hair Cells
There are a lot of reasons why the hair cells can be damaged. Some of the most common reasons are aging which is unavoidable and loud noise that can be avoided through hearing protection. Next, we have diabetes which can restrict blood flow to the tiny hair cells that leads to premature cell death.
Controlling blood sugar levels well reduces the likelihood of diabetes damaging hair cells used to sense movement and control balance.
More Possible Causes of Balance Problems
As we have mentioned, hearing loss does not cause balance disorders on its own. However, problems with the inner ear affect hearing may also cause problems with the vestibular system.
Hearing related: ear infections, poor blood circulation in the inner ear, and head injuries can all lead to balance disorders.
Non-hearing related: Tumors on or pressing on the inner ear, medications, arthritis, eye muscle imbalance, and low blood pressure.
What To Do If You Are Experiencing Balance Problems?
Because there are both hearing and non hearing related medical issues that could be causing balance problems, we always suggest consulting with your family Doctor to rule out not hearing related causes. After that a thorough hearing test and evaluation are in order. To book a hearing test, send us a message through the form on this page or call us at (204) 788-1083. Thanks for reading!