Everything About the Inner Ear is Small; Except the Impact.

As much as we might whine and complain that “people don’t think about their hearing,” it’s common for people to know the mechanics of hearing, which usually goes like this: Sound, eardrum, bones, cochlea…hearing. It’s a sketch, but it’s a reasonable sketch.

The inner ear is tiny. The cochlea is a 30mm long tube, that is about 25 cells wide (yes, cells) which contains the Organ of Corti: the hearing organ. The vestibule is the other end of the cochlea. The vestibule connects the cochlea and the semi-circular canals for balance. Those semi-circular canals are three hoops which contain cells that sense the motion of fluid in hose hoops. And those hoops cover the X, Y, and Z axes for your balance.

Hearing is fluid vibrating across hair cells that trigger sound. Balance is fluid moving past hair cells that sense the motion. In both cases, the inner ear contains the mechanism, the brain is the processor.

What happens when the mechanism is broken. In my case, the Organ of Corti simply never functioned perfectly, and got worse over time until I was deaf.

Here’s the point: as much as we whine about ignorance or lack of interest in hearing, imagine having BPPV. Am I right?! Wait. You don’t know what BPPV is? Full disclosure: I had no idea.

Here’s a mouthful: BBPV is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. Uh huh.

Long story short, there’s a malfunction in your balance organ(s)…there are some free-floating crystals that form. They’re not supposed to. The seim-circular canals should be teensy smooth tubes. Crystals are not part of the design. The crystals strike the hairs that sense the motion of the fluid which is balance information, which can cause short and intense bursts of vertigo. Roll over in bed, and the world rolls with you in the opposite direction. Sit up…waaaaay up, but feel like you’re laying down, and up and down and up and then after a minute or two you’ve staved off the urge to barf and the world stops moving.

I’ll say it again, everything about the inner ear and hearing is small except the impact. And this is the impact:

Nat Lauzon regularly faces unpleasant, unexpected moments. When asked what’s it like dealing with vestibular (balance) malfunctions Nat says she thought she was having a stroke. So, it’s safe to say it’s intense, extreme, and unpleasant.

And like everything inner ear, there aren’t a lot of solutions. Medications can help, but mostly you change your life. You work to find a new normal.

When people with inner ear dysfunction have problems, the first thing they do is go the family doctor. Family doctors don’t get that much training on vestibular and inner ear function. In fact, most medical schools spend a few hours teaching about the inner ear, and that’s it. Other “major” organs (by size) get more attention.

This is your takeaway for today: When you stand up, sit down, turn your head, or sit still: your inner ear is hard at work helping keeping you in position. And we all take it for granted, but once in a while, let’s not.

Here’s more information to get you started…