Can Hearing Loss Affect the Way You Walk?

November 30, 2021

 

Scientists are increasingly understanding how hearing loss can affect how we walk. There are two primary ways that hearing loss affects how we walk. One, being our ability to balance. Two, our ability to process the world around us and move accordingly.

 

Scientists are increasingly understanding how hearing loss can affect how we walk. There are two primary ways that hearing loss affects how we walk. One, being our ability to balance. Two, our ability to process the world around us and move accordingly.

How are Your Hearing and Your Balance Connected?

If you’ve ever felt unsteady on your feet, you know how disruptive dizziness can be. Dizziness is a feeling of faintness, unsteadiness or lightheadedness. Vertigo is a type of dizziness, and includes a feeling of the room spinning around you. You may feel like you’re spinning, or that the room around you is spinning. Disequilibrium is a feeling of unsteadiness or imbalance.

So where do your ears come into this?

Put simply, our ability to balance requires 3 systems in our body to provide feedback:

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Brain

Your environment around you is processed by your eyes. Your ears, specifically the vestibular system in your inner ear, work to keep you balanced. The brain then uses the information from your eyes and ears and processes it into meaningful information.

The vestibular system contains special sensory hair cells. These cells help to detect movement: side to side up and down, and tilt. Fluid in your inner ears will move, and these hair cells in turn interpret this moment. The entire system is extremely sensitive to any movement.

Issues that affect your inner ear can result in balance disorders. For example, an ear infection in your inner ear could cause a structure in your inner ear, known as the labyrinth, to swell. This swelling or inflammation can result in hearing loss or tinnitus. It can also lead to feelings of vertigo or nausea. This is in part due to the swelling disrupting the messages that should be sent to your brain.

How Can Hearing Loss Affect the Way You Walk?

Did you know that the human body has about 600 muscles? Our muscles work together for a host of reasons. Walking is one example of a significant amount of our muscles moving together. The simple action of taking one step forward requires 200 muscles. That’s over 30% of all of our muscles!

The obvious muscles used when walking are our legs. However, walking also involves input from your eyes and your ears!

Your eyes are picking up visual cues in your surroundings. Your ears are listening to your surroundings, while your inner ear is detecting motion. Finally, your brain is translating all of this information.

In a study that tracked 639 adults for nearly 12 years, Johns Hopkins expert Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. looked at how hearing loss can impact our health. As part of the study, they looked at how hearing loss can affect how we walk.

“As you walk, your ears pick up subtle cues that help with balance. Hearing loss mutes these important signals, Lin notes. “It also makes your brain work harder just to process sound. This subconscious multitasking may interfere with some mental processing needed to walk safely.” (source)

By masking some of the important auditory cues around us, hearing loss can impact how we actually walk. Additionally, certain chronic conditions that affect your ears, such as Meniere’s disease, can impact your inner ear. In turn, this can leave you feeling unsteady on your feet.

Contact Our Hearing Healthcare Specialists Today!

Staying on top of your hearing health can help to detect any changes to your baseline hearing. In turn, this can help to minimize the impact that hearing loss can have on your day-to-day life. If you are overdue a hearing assessment, make today the day you book in with your local hearing healthcare specialist. To book an appointment with Audiology Professionals, call (541) 228-9233. Alternatively, click here to contact us online.

Comments are closed.
Audiology Professionals

Audiology Professionals