What Causes Balance Problems

From Inner Ear Inflammation to Low Blood Pressure

Are you experiencing dizziness or feelings of being off balance? Remember when you were a kid and would roll down the hill, spin the merry-go-round fast, or play on anything that spins. The world starts to spin when you stop, you stumble around aimlessly and are unable to focus. You might even have feelings of wanting to throw up. These feelings can make you feel miserable.

Woman balancing on a log fence on the beach
Daniel Ingold / Getty Images

In contrast, there are athletes that can spin in tight circles repeatedly on ice skates and then skate off in a straight line jumping along the way. How are some people susceptible to becoming dizzy with activities while others are not? Understanding this will help you understand what is causing you to have a disorder that affects your balance.

How Your Sense of Balance Works in a Nutshell

Your sense of balance or equilibrium is an important part of your daily life. Your ear plays a major role in you maintaining balance. The ear has two major functions: hearing and balance. Different parts of the ear allow for multiple roles. The main parts of the ear related to hearing include the outer ear, tympanic membrane, ossicles, cochlea, and the cochlear nerve.

While the ear is also related to our sense of balance, the structures involved differ from that of our sense of hearing. The vestibular system, which includes two sacs called the utrical and the accule and three semicircular canals, is filled with a fluid called endolymph and is responsible for your ability to balance. Portions of this system have tiny stones (otoliths) that stimulate hair cells during head movement, causing signals to go to the brain via the vestibular nerve. The brain then interprets the signal into what we feel as our balance.

Symptoms of Balance Disorders

The main symptoms related to balance disorders include:

  • Dizziness
  • Feeling a sensation of falling
  • Feeling like you are about to faint (lightheaded)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Blurry vision


Many different causes can be related to balance disorders, and not all are related to the ears. Some of the causes include:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Low blood pressure
  • Side-effects of medications
  • Arthritis
  • Disorders affecting muscles of the eye

In relation to the ears, there are also many different reasons why you can develop a balance disorder. The list below identifies common disorders related to balance and a basic description of the cause:


If you experience balance disturbances, you should see your physician. Most likely you will be referred to an ENT for a thorough workup. Your ENT will take a detailed history of how and when you experience vertigo as well as look in your ears. Following the exam, you will likely be referred for one or more tests to help identify the cause of your dizzy spells.


Because there are many reasons that you may develop a balance disorder, likewise there are many treatments for balance disorders. For more specific information related to treatments, please visit the links above related to specific diagnoses. However, the treatments may be categorized into the following main types of therapies for treating vertigo:

  • Oral medications: antibiotics, steroids, anti-nausea, anti-vertigo
  • Head positioning (i.e., Epley maneuver)
  • Surgery
  • Changing habits away from activities that make the symptoms worse.

It is important to remember that prior to treating anything on your own, you should consult a doctor, particularly an ENT in the case of vertigo.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.