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Have you been feeling unsteady on your feet?

Unsteadiness and imbalance
Unsteadiness on my feet

Have you recently felt more unsteady on your feet?

This can be a symptom of an inner ear disorder.

One half of the inner ear is built for hearing.

But the other half is built to sense your head position and your head motion. This is very important for keeping you steady on your feet.

Problems affecting the inner ear can affect your balance.

Problem 1: Reduced sensitivity of the inner ear which contributes to unsteadiness.

It’s normal for the inner ear system to gradually become less sensitive as we get over 65 years old.

This means that you might start to feel imbalanced when moving around more quickly or when you turn your head while walking.

To compensate for this, you might find yourself moving more slowly, or using your hands to hold onto walls or furniture. This type of problem may become more noticeable when walking in the dark.

If this is happening to you, a detailed neurological exam and testing of your inner ear function should be on your radar of things to do.

Problem 2: A sand-like material is moving around parts of the inner ear causing brief moments of unsteadiness.

Some people describe one day developing unsteadiness related to looking downward, like when descending stairs or stepping down off a curb; or unsteadiness related to looking upward, like when climbing stairs or reaching into a higher cupboard. Sometimes you might feel unsteady when bending forward to pick something up off the floor.

Many times this is also felt as a brief spinning sensation, but not everyone will experience this problem as spinning. Some people will simply describe it as an unsteadiness.

If your unsteadiness is related to a specific head position or head motion like the ones mentioned above, then a detailed neurological exam and testing of your inner ear function should be completed.

Testing of inner ear function:

Unfortunately, the inner ear can’t be seen. It’s buried deep within the skull.

But we can test how well it’s working.

A detailed inner ear exam involves testing

  • head movements

  • head positions

  • eye movements

  • standing and walking balance

  • use of special goggles with a camera to view what the eyes do in the dark during testing.

All of this will provide a clearer idea of whether the inner ear system is contributing to your unsteadiness.

If the inner ear is contributing to your unsteadiness, then a treatment or rehabilitation program can be developed to improve your balance and make your day to day life a little safer.

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