Explained: The link between balance problems and hearing loss

Published 06 July 2017  | Updated 18 December 2022  | 3 mins read

Your ears aren’t just for hearing, they’re essential for balance too. Staying upright might sound like a basic human function, but it’s made possible by an astounding piece of equipment located in your inner ear: the vestibular system. Not only is it a mechanical marvel, it can also act as an early warning sign for hearing loss.

To keep you from losing your balance and falling over, we each have three systems at work inside our bodies: the vestibular system, somatosensory system and visual system. They all work together to keep you upright and aware of your body’s position in the world around it.

The eyes have it

The visual system is exactly as it sounds – your eyes tell your brain how close you are to other objects in the world around you.

Meanwhile, the somatosensory system takes information from your skin and joints: are you sitting down? Are you leaning against a wall? The somatosensory system gathers the data and sends it to your brain.

Enter the labyrinth

But as audiologists, the vestibular system is what we’re really interested in. The vestibular system provides us with a sense of balance and alignment, using fluid-filled canals positioned in three axis.

Located within the inner ear, it sits alongside the cochlea, which is essential for hearing – together, the cochlea and vestibular system form the ‘bony labyrinth’ of the inner ear. The cochlea and vestibular system also keep your vision clear so that you can maintain your balance as you stand or walk.

How hearing loss affects your balance

If you think you may be experiencing balance impairement, however minor, it may indicate a problem with your inner ear. And that could also have an impact on your hearing.

Look out for one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Difficulties with balance when walking or standing
  • Light-headedness or a floating sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks

Inner ear problems, such as ear infections, could mean that you suffer from hearing loss and balance impairment at the same time. That doesn’t mean one causes the other, but it is possible.

Take action

Drop into your nearest branch of The Hearing Care Partnership for a free hearing test, after which an experienced audiologist will help you decide what to do next.

You can book your free hearing assessment in store, or book an appointment online.