Regaining Balance after Problems with the Inner Ear
Inner ear problems can frequently cause debilitating effects, and to make matters worse there is frequently no way to cure the underlying issue. When the inner ear suffers irreparable damage, the primary treatment to fight hearing loss is typically a cochlear implant. But inner ear conditions can also cause severe balance problems, and thus far there no real treatment has been developed for such issues. Now something is finally being proposed.
The vestibular nerve needs to be stimulated in order to maintain balance. This can potentially be performed via electrical impulses from an implant. Researchers recently tested such prosthesis to see if it would be as effective as they hoped.
One inner ear condition that can create various degrees of balance issues is Meniere’s disease. The damage creates a sense of vertigo, as well as leaving the sufferer to deal with pressure in their inner ear and ringing (tinnitus). Medication can help control some of these symptoms, but there is no way to cure the disease itself.
The prosthesis that has been developed can introduce electric stimulation via fluid inside the ear canal. This fools the brain into believing that the body is leaning a certain way. The body then responds reflexively to correct the problem, thus balancing out its equilibrium.
Four individuals received the prosthesis for the purpose of this research, each of which had Meniere’s disease. Measurements were taken to see how the body responded to the stimuli of the implant when the patient’s eyes were open, and then again with them closed.
The results showed that first of all fine tuning is need for a more effective response – while each patient responded to the stimuli and had their posture adjusted, they all experienced slightly different responses. This is believed to be due to tiny differences in the location of the stimuli, indicating the importance of precision in the process.
Overall the signs are positive that the device could be used to assist those with Meniere’s disease, although the results showed also that much more research is needed to fine tune the prosthesis.