How do our hearing and balance work?

Mature couple walking

Three fluid-filled canals within the ear act as a sort of level for the body, making it possible to do activities such as walking, running and standing

There's a strong link between hearing and the vestibular system, the system in our bodies which is responsible for balance. In fact, it is such a close relationship that the sensors in the human body responsible for balance are located right next to each other in the inner ear. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), three fluid-filled canals within the ear act as a sort of level for the body, making it possible to do activities such as walking, running and standing. ASHA notes that these canals lie at different angles and each has a distinct responsibility. One sensor deals with moving up and down, the second with moving side to side and the third with tilting.

Balance is a complex function of the human body and a hearing or a balance disorder can lead to increased risk of suffering falls. In fact, a recent study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that those with mild hearing loss were approximately three times more likely to have fallen down at some point in their history. This means that both addressing balance and hearing disorders is imperative for seniors to help prevent harmful falls.

What is the link between balance and hearing?
Hearing and balance are closely related in that both functions rely on hair cells to send signals to the brain via the acoustic nerve. When hair cells are harmed or lost, it affects hearing and eventually causes hearing loss. The loss of hair cells, this time in the vestibular system, also affects balance, since these cells are needed to communicate head movements to the brain. For this reason, both hearing and balance disorders are assessed and treated by audiologists. Therefore, hearing aids not only rehabilitate a certain level of hearing, but also can improve balance and reduce risk of falling. ASHA notes that in the long run addressing hearing loss can improve quality of life from a social, psychological and physical standpoint.

When should I have my balance tested?
There are numerous situations in which a person may need to have their balance tested. Some of these situations include if a person is experiencing bouts of vertigo or dizziness, tinnitus, irregular eye movements or problems walking. While your primary physician may be able to perform some general tests regarding your balance, audiologists have specialized equipment designed to examine balance and hearing. In some cases, those experiencing hearing loss and trouble balancing may need to undergo vestibular rehabilitation, which involves working with a specialist to minimize symptoms of a balance disorder.

If you are concerned about hearing loss, for yourself or someone important to you, contact an audiologist or a hearing health care professional at your local AccuQuest Hearing Center.

If you want to learn more about how your hearing works, hearing loss and hearing aids, how hearing aids work or why it is a good idea to see an audiologist or hearing health care professional, click here to view and download your own copy of AccuQuest's Journey to Better Hearing.

There’s a strong link between hearing and balance. Hearing makes it possible to do activities such as walking, running and standing.