How Hearing Aids Affects Your Balance
August 2, 2021
A hearing loss is more than just a loss of hearing. Hearing loss has been linked with increased cases of dementia, anxiety, and depression. It has also been linked with increased fall risk and other balancing difficulties. Research conducted in 2012, at John Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that individuals with a mild hearing loss may be up to three times more likely to have a history of falling. How is this possible? Your ears do more than just help you hear and make sense of sounds in your environment, they are also responsible for helping you maintain adequate balance when walking, or simply standing. The inner ear plays an important role in your “vestibular” system which is responsible for balance and helping your body understand its place in space.
How does our balance system work?
What you see, hear, and feel plays an important role in your balance. The inner ear is the most important part of your ear and is responsible for keeping you upright and balanced. The inner ear consists of three loops called the semi-circular canals, otolithic organs, and your cochlea. The semi-circular canals are responsible for registering side-to-side movements, up-and-down movements, or tilting movements of your head. Your semi-circular canals contain hair cells and fluid. When we move our bodies or head, this fluid moves as well sending signals to your brain through the acoustic nerve. Your brain uses this information to sense where you are in space and allows your body to respond to sudden changes in your environment.
Your inner ear is also responsible for helping your brain sense where your head is when you’re not moving. All the sensory information and postural information helps your brain register when you’re moving straight forward, like when you’re driving a car, or when you’re moving up and down, like an escalator or elevator. A compromised inner ear may cause balance issues and some research has been suggestive of improvement in balance when using a hearing aid.
Improving your balance with hearing aids
Our ability to hear and see well, both play an integral role in our overall balance. This raises the question – will hearing aids improve your balance? This might sound strange, but yes they can! Some studies have found that restoring a hard-of-hearing individual’s access to sound improves their balance. Hearing aids will allow your brain to have access to far more sounds, therefore enabling it to get a better picture of where you are in space. Using only your sight is quite limiting as you can only see what is in front of you, where auditory information is processed from all around you. A study conducted by Washington State University in 2015 found that their participants performed better in balance tests when their hearing aids were switched on, rather than off.
Our balance system makes use of auditory reference points in our environment to register where we are in space and when our ability to hear is compromised, maintaining balance is challenging. Lexie Lumen hearing aids offer great sound quality and improve your access to everyday sound by not only amplifying it but also detecting surrounding sounds using an adaptive microphone. As more sound reaches your inner ear and balance system, it allows your brain to have a better spatial awareness. Having a clear sense of your environment is reassuring and has reportedly made hearing aids users to feel safer. By removing the uncertainty of your surroundings, or the fear of falling, you’ll be able to better focus your energy and attention on other important tasks, such as spending quality time with your family.
Commonly asked questions
Question: Does hearing loss always have accompanying balance difficulties?
Answer: Hearing loss and balance problems do not necessarily always occur together. Not all people who have a hearing loss report noticeable difficulties with their balance and not all individuals with balance disorders report a hearing loss. These conditions do, however, occur together from time to time.
Question: Will a hearing aid cure my balance disorder?
Answer: Some research has shown an improvement in balance, but just as hearing aids cannot cure your hearing loss, it doesn’t cure the imbalance experienced due to a compromised vestibular (balance) system.
It’s vital to distinguish between having a hearing loss and feeling uneasy on your feet because of decreased spatial awareness vs. experiencing severe balance difficulties and dizziness due to the inner ear structures, such as the semi-circular canals, being structurally compromised. A disordered balance system can lead to severe balance problems, dizziness, spinning sensations (vertigo), and on occasion nausea. This can be caused by ear infections, low blood pressure, or more serious issues such as traumatic brain injuries or acoustic neuromas. Accompanying symptoms can be quite debilitating and can negatively impact your ability to move around safely. People who suffer from severe vertigo, the feeling where your surroundings spin around you, might even experience this sensation when they are laying down. In the case of a balance disorder – hearing loss is often an accompanying symptom and not the cause of the balance issues.
Dizziness and balance difficulties do not happen by themselves. They are often signs of another problem. If any of the following symptoms occur speak to your closest health care provider:
- Numbness or tingling sensations in your hands, arms, or legs
- Weakness in your arms or legs
- Blurry vision
- Sudden hearing loss
- Sudden ringing sounds (tinnitus) in one ear
- Severe neck stiffness
- Headaches, or severe migraines
- High fever
- Nausea with/without vomiting
Balance disorders include Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) i.e. positional vertigo, Meniere’s disease, Vestibular Migraines, Labyrinthitis, Vestibular Neuritis, and Perilymph Fistulas. Balance disorders may require medical attention and the treatment largely depends on the cause of the issue. Infections such as Vestibular Neuritis can be treated with antibiotics, while balance disorders such as Meniere’s disease may require more specialized medications. With these disorders – hearing aids have not proven to relieve the experiences of imbalance and dizziness.
The advantages of having a hearing aid are not limited to improving your communication experience and keeping you connected with your loved ones. Some research has shown the benefits of hearing aids in improving your balance too and therefore keeping you safe. During your free Lexie Hearing consultation, be sure to mention and ask for advice if you have any balance difficulties. It is important to explore whether or not you need further evaluation, or additional treatment, to determine whether or not it is your hearing loss causing dizziness, or balance problems.
Should one of our hearing experts advise you that you can benefit from wearing Lexie Lumen hearing aids, the process of getting yours is simple. Simply order your Lexies online, have them delivered right to your door, and set them up in the comfort of your home! Keep in mind that our hearing experts will be with you every step of the way to offer you the support you may need.