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Balance Problems

Balance problems cause dizziness and make you feel as though you’re spinning or moving when you’re actually standing or sitting still. As a result, you may not feel well, and this may interfere with your daily life. Balance issues can lead to falls, which can cause broken bones and other injuries.

What Are the Symptoms of Balance Problems?

The primary symptoms of balance problems are dizziness and the feeling that the room is spinning. It may be difficult to walk without falling. Other symptoms include:

  • blurred vision
  • nausea and vomiting
  • mental confusion or disorientation
  • feelings of depression, fear, or anxiety
  • difficulty concentrating
  • tiredness
  • diarrhea
  • blood pressure and heart rate changes

What Causes Balance Problems?

Causes of balance problems include:

  • infections of your ear
  • inner ear problems
  • head injury
  • poor blood circulation
  • certain medications
  • chemical imbalance in your brain
  • low blood pressure
  • high blood pressure
  • neurological conditions
  • arthritis
  • aging

For example:

  • Vertigo causes dizziness when you move your head. The symptoms usually occur when you look behind you or look up to reach for an item positioned above your head.
  • Inner ear infection or inflammation can make you feel dizzy and unsteady. The flu or an upper respiratory infection can cause this condition.
  • Meniere’s disease changes the volume of fluid in your ear, causing balance problems, hearing loss, and ringing in your ears. Its cause is unknown.
  • Head injury, strenuous physical activity, ear infections, and atmospheric pressure changes can cause inner ear fluid to leak into your middle ear. This can cause balance problems.
  • Sea travel can cause balance problems that may take hours, days, or months to clear up.
  • A tumor, such as an acoustic neuroma, can also cause balance problems.

Who Is at Risk of Balance Problems?

You may be at risk of balance problems if you’re on medication, suffering from a viral infection, experiencing inner ear problems, or recovering from a head injury. If you’re over 65 years old and have arthritis or high or low blood pressure, your risk of balance problems is higher. Traveling on a boat or ship may also cause temporary balance problems.

How Are Balance Problems Diagnosed?

Balance problems are difficult to address because they may be caused by numerous factors. Your doctor may ask about your symptoms and conduct a review of your medical history for related conditions and medications.

In some cases, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They may run the following tests to pinpoint the cause and intensity of the problem:

  • blood tests
  • hearing exams
  • eye movement tests
  • imaging scans of your brain and head, such as an MRI or CT scan
  • posturography, which is a study of your posture

How Are Balance Problems Treated?

Balance problems are sometimes corrected by addressing the underlying health condition. They may be treated with medication, surgery, dietary changes, physical therapy, or exercises you can do at home.


Your doctor will review your medications and might replace them or adjust your dosage. If your condition is caused by a bacterial ear infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic to cure it. If you have symptoms of nausea, they may prescribe antinausea medication. Your doctor might also inject small doses of corticosteroids behind your eardrum to decrease dizziness.


If you have Meniere’s disease, your doctor may recommend surgery on your vestibular system, which makes up your inner ear and affects your balance.

Home Care

To relieve vertigo, your doctor may prescribe activities that can be done at home or with the help of a rehabilitation therapist. A common technique that can be performed at home is the Epley maneuver. It involves sitting up and then quickly resting on your back and turning your head to one side. After a couple of minutes, you sit back up. Your doctor will probably show you this technique in their office, and you can repeat it at home to reduce or eliminate dizziness.

If the cause of your balance problem is unknown or incurable, your doctor might instruct you on various ways to reduce your risk of injury. You may require assistance when using the restroom or climbing stairs. Using a cane or handrails at home may also be necessary. It’s generally best to avoid driving if your condition is severe.

Your doctor might also make recommendations to address your overall health. These might include exercising, quitting smoking, limiting caffeine and alcohol, reducing your salt intake, and eating well-balanced meals.

Long-Term Outlook

Balance problems can be temporary or a long-term issue, depending on what causes them. If you have an ear infection or have just traveled on a boat, the condition generally clears up in time with treatment. However, if the cause is unknown or the issues are a result of chronic conditions or aging, the symptoms may continue indefinitely.

Speak with your doctor to learn more about your condition and outlook.


Most balance problems are difficult to prevent. However, you can address those that are associated with blood pressure issues. Prevent low blood pressure by drinking more water and avoiding alcohol. Avoid high blood pressure by exercising regularly, limiting your salt intake, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Chitra Badii and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Mar 08, 2016: William A Morrison, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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