Treating Balance Problems

Treating Balance Problems


Narrator: Balance disorders can have a serious
impact on a person’s life. There are many types of balance disorders. Ménière’s disease causes a person to experience
vertigo, hearing loss that comes and goes, tinnitus, which is a ringing or roaring in
the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It affects adults of any age. Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner
ear caused by an infection. The balance disorder that most often affects older adults, however,
is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Man: This disease brought me to my knees.
I’ve prayed and I prayed — I’ve cried. I just — I’ve daydreamed about going somewhere
and finding somebody that would fix you up. It’s that devastating. It’s just… I don’t
know. Peter Zee, M.D.: Benign paroxysmal positional
vertigo — usually patients get dizzy when they turn over in bed or get out of bed and
can’t walk for a few seconds or 10 or 15 seconds — is due to some small calcium stones, microscopic
in size, that are floating around in the inner ear. We all have these little calcium stones in
our inner ear, but they’re usually in just one place — a part of the inner organ called
the otolith. But if they should become loose, for whatever
reason — just naturally or after a mild head injury, they could become loose and start
floating around and if they get stuck in one of the other inner-ear organs then they cause
vertigo whenever you tilt your head and the way we treat this problem is to do a physical-therapy
maneuver, where we move the patient’s head around in such a way that we can actually
get the stones to pop out. It’s like playing a pinball machine and tilting
the table to get that little ball into the hole. The patient then sits up for about 20
minutes without moving their head and then in maybe 70 or 80 percent of the patients
the problem is cured. Narrator: Another treatment used for balance
disorders is physical therapy. A physical therapist may take you through habituation
exercises. These repetitive motions may first trigger symptoms but over time you will adapt.
Making changes in your everyday environment can also help with a balance disorder by reducing
the risk of falls. A.Julianna Gulya, M.D.: Well, there are generally
two sets of things individuals can do — older individuals in particular, to help themselves
keep from falling. One set consists of changes they can make in their environment. The other
set are changes they can make for themselves. The basic things are lighting — night lights,
for instance, since part of the balance system and part of maintaining your balance relies
on visual cues. It makes sense to have things well-lit so you can see where you are. Hand-holds — they don’t have to be formal
handrails everywhere, but something that’s kind of strategically located. Don’t have
free, loose rugs lying around. You want to make sure that whatever carpeting there is,
is firmly fixed to the floor. The last thing you need is something you’re
going to slip on. Again, with carpeting, thick-pile carpeting makes it much more difficult for
the muscle and joint receptors to figure out where they are, so you want to have short-pile
carpeting. And now, moving on to things that you can
do to change yourself, the most important thing is exercise and conditioning. That’s
— I mean, we don’t expect you to go running out, doing jumping jacks — it’s not that
kind of thing. But gentle, slow range of motion, gentle strength training, toning, all those
kinds of things can really help to make an individual more able to make that corrective
move if they start to fall. Narrator: Overcoming a balance disorder may
take some time. Woman: I was gradually — it wasn’t a fast
process, but it was a slow process, that I gradually gained my strength back and my balance.
My hearing is better and my sight — I can read! Everything was blurred before, but I
can read now and even the fine prints and I’m so grateful for that. And I can drive,
which I didn’t drive for six months. Narrator: When you find a treatment or treatments
that work, you can regain your sense of balance as well as your peace of mind. Woman: It’s been two years, maybe three years
now. And I haven’t had any vertigos. Nothing is moving and that’s great. And that is the
holy gospel. [ laughs ]

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