“Balance is the key to a healthy life” – How many times have we heard this quote? But did you know that our inner ear is responsible for our sense of balance?
The concept might seem arbitrary to some people. How could the ear possibly help us maintain balance? It certainly doesn’t make sense that such a small organ of our bodies can help us with something so significant.
Well, the truth lies even deeper – deep inside the inner ear. Every individual has a balance system known as the vestibular system. It works in cohesion with several other systems, such as our sensory system, ears and our eyes. In this short guide, you will find out more about this system and how your ears keep you from toppling over.
So, without further ado, let’s talk about balance!
How Do Your Ears Help You Balance?
To understand how ears help you balance, you need first to understand their anatomy.
Anatomy Of The Ear
Our ears are made of three parts – the external, middle and inner portion. In this guide, we will be concerned mainly with the inner ear and the vestibular system.
The vestibular system of your ear is made up of three, semicircular canals and two pockets. Each semicircular canal works in its own way to detect specific movements you make – nodding, rotating your head, walking, and running.
Every head movement causes the fluid inside the ears to move. This, in turn, stimulates the tiny hairs in the inner ear, which send messages to a part of the brain known as the cerebellum. This process is conducted by the vestibular system, which we now know as the balance system.
The Semicircular Canals
Each of the three semicircular canals is located at different angles. This enables the brain to make a better judgement of where the head is moving.
Certain fast or prolonged movements such as spinning on the spot or running fast back and forth can cause the liquid in your ears to continue ‘swishing’ even after you have stopped moving. This is why it often seems like the ‘world is spinning’ after doing such movements.
The vestibular system is sensitive to small movements of our head, but these kinds of prolonged movements can cause some disorientation.
The Otolith Organs
The two pockets located in the inner ear are called the otolith organs. These seemingly small and inconsequential pockets in your ear play a huge role in maintaining your balance as you stand, walk, talk, lie down or laugh.
The otolith organs are called the saccule and utricle, respectively. They are responsible for sending messages to the brain (via the vestibular system) about your body’s movement in a straight line.
Think of it like this – when you walk forward or backward, go up or down, or even lean on one side or lie down, these tiny pockets in your ear send messages to the brain, telling it about this movement.
The utricle judges any horizontal movement or change of position of your head or body. Movements such as tilting, leaning or lying down trigger the tiny crystals, which then stimulate the hair in this pocket.
Conversely, the saccule is triggered by vertical movements, such as jumping, climbing, going up an escalator, etc. When the tiny hairs are triggered in the inner ear, they send messages to your brain, alerting it about this movement.
Is Balance Linked To Hearing?
A part of the inner ear called the cochlea enables our ears to receive the sound waves coming from outside. These sound waves cause movement of the liquid of the inner ear, which in turn, trigger the tiny hairs.
It can often be seen that hearing loss causes balance issues – since hearing loss is mostly concerned with problems with the inner ear. Let us elucidate this with an example.
We have all heard of the term “vertigo.” This is a sensation of feeling ‘off-balance’ or dizzy. This condition is often related to Meniere’s, which is a fluid balance disorder of the inner ear. It can thus be understood that issues related to the inner ear or hearing loss may often cause vertigo or dizzy spells.
If you experience feelings of dizziness or vertigo, it is imperative to visit your doctor and let them know of this immediately.
Not many people are aware of how acutely their ears are associated with their sense of balance. An easy tip to take care of your ears and maintain your steady sense of balance is to avoid using Q-tips. Although it seems like they do an effective job of cleaning your ears, you run the risk of damaging the eardrums and disrupting the fluid.
Over time, this can cause hearing loss and vertigo. Of course, we don’t recommend that you stop cleaning your ears!
We hope you enjoyed finding out about the fascinating relation between ears and balance.
Until next time!