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Deafness and Balance Problems

More Than Just the Ears Affected

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Updated March 30, 2010

I don't know if I had a balance problem as a baby. But I suspect I did because I have been told that I did not begin to walk until I was older than children normally do. When I was in nursery school, the school bus driver had to carry me onto the school bus. Whatever it was, apparently was outgrown by the time I started elementary school, because I certainly have no problems walking today.

Balance Problems in People with Hearing Loss

Balance depends on nerve signals from three systems -- eyes, legs/torso, and inner ear balance organs -- that comprise our vestibular system. These nerve signals, which go to the brain, help us to stay upright. However, if something goes wrong with one of these three systems, it can make us lose our balance.

In fact, the hearing and balance systems are connected inside the inner ear. This is why as many as 30% of deaf people may have balance problems. One symptom of balance problems in a baby is not being able to walk by 15 months, like what happened with me. Not surprisingly, children born with Type 1 Usher's Syndrome, a condition that causes vision loss and hearing impairment, have balance problems.

Research on Hearing Loss and Balance

Some research has been done into hearing loss and balance. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine has a Center for Hearing and Balance research. Staff specialize in various areas of research related to hearing and balance, such as auditory and vestibular development.

Journal articles about hearing and balance include "Evidence of vestibular and balance dysfunction in children with profound sensorineural hearing loss using cochlear implants," in Laryngoscope October 2008. According to the abstract, a study of 40 deaf children with cochlear implants found that a third of them had vestibular and balance dysfunction. Plus, those who had had meningitis had worse balance than those whose deafness was caused by other conditions.

Help for Balance Problems and Hearing Loss

Several clinics offer help with balance problems and hearing loss. A few:

Another source of help is the Vestibular Disorders Association, which has support groups internationally. VEDA also has an online store selling publications such as Stories & Strategies: Coping with Vestibular Disorders.

Books on Hearing and Balance

One book on hearing and balance is An Essential Guide to Hearing and Balance Disorders Compare Prices. This book is medically-focused, and is a textbook with information on diagnosing and treating hearing and balance disorders.

Sources:

BoysTownHospital.org - Genetics and Deafness - How the Balance System Works, http://boystownhospital.org/Hearing/info/genetics/syndromes/balance.asp

NIDCD - Usher Syndrome

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