Why Might an Ear Infection Lead to Problems with Balance?

Will an ear infection lead to problems with balance?

Rather than referring to a specific condition, ear infections are actually comprised of various types of illness. Depending on where the infection actually occurs, the symptoms and treatments may vary.

An inner ear infection, for example, is known as labyrinthitis. When this occurs, people may find that their hearing is dulled or that they are unable to hear out of one ear altogether. For most people, an ear infection is an acute problem. Although it can be resolved, it can cause intense pain until treatment begins to take effect.

When the infection occurs in the middle ear, it is known as otitis media. In such cases, the area behind the eardrum becomes infected due to a virus or a build-up of bacteria. Although most common in children, adults may suffer from an infection of the middle ear as well.

While people may expect to experience pain or partial hearing loss as a result of an infection, they may not realize that it could also cause nausea, dizziness and balance problems.

When determining why might an ear infection lead to problems with balance, it's essential to examine the role our ears play in our overall ability to balance.

What are balance problems?

Balance problems occur when dizziness overwhelms an individual. As a result, they may feel that they are moving when, in fact, they are standing or sitting still. In other cases, balance problems may cause an individual to feel that their surroundings are moving or spinning, even when they are not.

As a result, balance problems can interfere greatly with everyday life. When serious balance problems occur, people may have trouble standing or walking so driving, exercising or going to work may be impossible until the condition is resolved.

Another consequence of balance problems is the possibility of secondary injuries. If balance problems cause you to fall or stumble, you may suffer additional harm. Unfortunately, people regularly sustain broken bones and fractures as a result of a fall caused by balance problems.

Due to this, it's important that balance problems are resolved as quickly as possible. As well as being extremely unpleasant, they can cause people to sustain other serious injuries which may delay the resolution of the issue.

How can balance problems be treated?

Balance problems can arise due to a number of conditions. In order for them to be treated, it's necessary to determine the root cause. If you're suffering from an ear infection, it could lead to unsteadiness and a feeling of dizziness.

Although you may ask, why might an ear infection lead to problems with balance, this is actually an extremely common side effect of the condition. When infection occurs, the affected area normally becomes inflamed too.

When inflammation occurs inside the ear, it can disrupt the sensory messages sent from the brain to the ear. As a result, the messages sent from the ear, eyes and the rest of the body are mismatched. This confusion may cause the brain to think the head is moving when it's not, resulting in dizziness.

This dizziness and unsteadiness then leads to balance problems, as well as giving rise to the potential of fall injuries occurring.

Can balance problems caused by an ear infection be resolved?

Fortunately, when an ear infection causes balance problems, it can normally be fully resolved. Once the infection has been treated, inflammation should reduce, thus relieving the disruptive messages being sent to the brain. Once the brain stops receiving faulty messages, it is able to process things appropriately and the dizziness and unsteadiness is no longer present.

However, in order for an ear infection to be treated, a physician will need to determine if it is viral or bacterial. If a viral infection is causing balance problems, it may not be possible to minimize them until the infection has resolved itself. If persistent nausea is present, a physician may be able to prescribe medication to reduce this symptom but the viral infection itself is unlikely to respond to treatment.

If the ear infection has been caused by bacteria, antibiotics can be prescribed. Normally, this will be very effective in treating the infection and will, therefore, resolve any balance problems as well. However, it may take a few days for the medication to begin to take effect so the resolution of balance problems is not likely to be immediate.

If a bacterial ear infection is resistant to treatment, antibiotics may be given intravenously. This requires the patient to be admitted to hospital and is fairly rare in the case of a one-off bacterial infection. If a patient suffers from chronic infections, this may be necessary treatment option but, for most patients, medications for bacterial infections and symptom management for viral infections will be effective in minimizing the balance problems associated with the condition.

Last Reviewed:
June 14, 2017
Last Updated:
October 10, 2017
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