How Do Our Eyes Impact Our Sense of Balance?

Balance is a complex task for a person. A human head is very heavy, and our bodies use multiple systems to keep our heads upright and to move through space on our two legs. These interrelated systems working as a team are the vestibular (i.e., inner ear) system, the visual (i.e., eye) system, and the proprioceptive (i.e., body movement sensory and muscle) system.

The vestibular system and the visual system work together by sending signals from the eye muscles to the balance organs in the inner ear. When you turn your head, your eyes go in the opposite direction. This is called the Vestibular Ocular Reflex. This lets us know that when we move through space, our bodies are moving, but the world is not. Signals from our legs, ankles, knees, and neck muscles also help us keep our balance.

If one of these systems is not functioning correctly, a person can feel dizzy, off-balance, or experience vertigo. Vertigo is a feeling of motion that is not actually present. Very often, an acute problem in the vestibular system (e.g., a virus, inflammation of the vestibular nerve, or BPPV) causes vertigo. BPPV, or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, is the most common cause and occurs when one of the little crystals in our inner ear, called otoconia, comes loose and migrates into one of the semicircular canals inside the ear. These crystals can be put back into place using a procedure called the “Epley Maneuver.” After about of BPPV, a patient will often be left with a feeling of an off-balance, drunken type of dizziness. The patient will complain of eye pain and soreness, light sensitivity, difficulty focusing, and neck pain.

In these cases, the person’s visual system (i.e., eyes) and proprioceptive system (i.e., neck muscles) help with their balance and compensate for the reduced vestibular function. The result can be Binocular Vision Dysfunction. The faulty signals coming from the damaged vestibular system cause a slight misalignment of the eye muscles. As the eye muscles work to correct this misalignment, they become tense and sore. During a neuro visual examination, these small misalignments are detected and measured. By wearing prescription eyeglasses with aligning lenses containing micro prisms, the patient’s eye muscles are relaxed, and their symptoms of sore eyes, neck strain, and dizziness are reduced or eliminated. Patients see an immediate improvement in gait and balance. After our treatment, most patients experience an 80% or more reduction in their symptoms.

If you are interested in learning more about the relationship between the visual and the vestibular systems, follow our blog or fill out our online questionnaire.

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