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Understanding the Role of Your Inner Ear in the Balance System

Your inner ear plays an important role in the complex balance system. While not the only mechanism the body and brain uses for balance, inner ear dysfunction can commonly present with a complaint of imbalance.

The inner ear balance mechanism is responsible for sensing two types of movement, rotation and linear (gravity). The portion of the inner ear responsible for rotation looks something like a hoop, and as the head turns, the hoop senses the activity and tells the brain of the rotation. Each ear has three hoops, or semicircular canals as they are called, which are set at different angles to each other and to their opposite so that they can be very sensitive and accurate in telling the brain what is going on. The brain then uses this information for both balance, and to help the eyes track objects whether we are still or moving. The portion of the inner ear that sense gravity or linear movement has two small sensory surfaces that are covered by calcium crystals. Gravity draws the calcium crystals down, letting the brain know which way is down as the head changes position.

As good as these systems are at sensing rotation and gravity, when they don’t work well, the results can be very disruptive. If you have problems with your balance, the importance of an appropriate and timely evaluation cannot be understated. The health professionals at the Shea Clinic Ear Nose & Throat have the experience, expertise and tools to help you understand and manage your balance concerns, and we welcome the chance to assist you.

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