You At Your Best

September 2022 • The 5 Senses

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With your five senses, you can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. With these senses working together with the vestibular system, you can maintain your sense of balance. In fact, balance is sometimes referred to as "the sixth sense." "The vestibular system consists of sensory organs in the inner ear that relay information to the brain about head and body orientation," says Elissa Berry, AuD, a vestibular audiologist at Washington Regional Balance Disorders Clinic. Canals that loop around inside your inner ear contain fluid and hair-like sensors that help maintain your sense of balance. When these tiny sensors move, they let your brain know which direction your head is moving. This information from the vestibular system is processed in the brain and then sent on to other parts of the body to help us maintain postural stability and clear vision with active movement. Sometimes this delicate process is disturbed, however, resulting in balance disorders. "Balance disorders can be divided into two main categories," Berry says. The first category includes symptoms such as dizziness, vertigo or motion intolerance — symptoms that may be noticed with quick head or body movements, riding in the car or lying down. "These symptoms may be acute attacks lasting just a few seconds, or they may last for several hours," she says. The second category of balance disorders includes a persistent sense of imbalance or unsteadiness. Nearly 40% of Americans will experience dizziness or imbalance at some point in their lives. And while balance disorders affect people of all ages, older adults are at higher risk. For adults over the age of 65, balance disorders are a significant contributing factor in injuries from falls. Balance disorders can limit your activities and lead to reduced quality of life, so Berry suggests contacting your primary care provider if you are experiencing: • Dizziness • Vertigo • Blurred vision with head movement • Lightheadedness • Imbalance or sudden falls "Your primary care provider can then refer you to the Washington Regional Balance Disorders Clinic," she says. An evaluation at the Balance Disorders Clinic takes approximately one and a half hours and includes diagnostic testing that can identify whether the patient's symptoms are coming from the inner ear or somewhere else. "While there are a lot of different things that can cause imbalance or dizziness, 85% of cases originate with disturbances in the inner ear," Berry says. Whether the patient returns to the Balance Disorders Clinic for treatment or is referred to another provider, the evaluation will determine the appropriate plan of care for each individual patient. Visit for more information. SponSor content Sense of balance SundaY, auguSt 28, 2022 | September - the 5 SenSeS | You at Your beSt | 3

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