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Early Signs and Risks of Balance Issues: When to Seek Help

June 25th, 2024 | 5 min. read

By Mark Nichols, MD

Balance and Dizzy Problems

Maintaining good balance is an essential part of our daily lives, often taken for granted until problems arise. Balance issues can significantly impact your quality of life, making even simple tasks challenging. Recognizing the early signs of balance problems and seeking help promptly can prevent further complications and improve outcomes. In this blog post, we'll explore the early indicators of balance issues and guide you on when to seek professional help.


Understanding Balance and Its Importance

Balance is the ability to maintain your body's center of gravity within its base of support. It involves a complex interaction between your inner ear (vestibular system), eyes (visual system), muscles, and joints (proprioceptive system). Any disruption in these systems can lead to balance problems, causing dizziness, unsteadiness, or even falls.


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Early Signs of Balance Issues

  1. Frequent Dizziness or Vertigo Dizziness or vertigo is one of the most common symptoms of balance problems. Dizziness refers to a feeling of lightheadedness or faintness, while vertigo is the sensation that you or your surroundings are spinning. If you experience these symptoms frequently, it could indicate an underlying balance issue. Persistent dizziness can also lead to anxiety and fear of falling, which can further impact your quality of life.

  2. Unsteady Gait An unsteady gait, or difficulty walking in a straight line, is another early sign of balance problems. You might find yourself stumbling or veering to one side, especially in dimly lit environments. Pay attention to any changes in your walking pattern, as it could be a warning sign. Unsteady gait can also increase the risk of falls, which can be particularly dangerous for older adults.

  3. Frequent Falls or Near-Falls Falling frequently or having close calls can be a clear indicator of balance problems. While occasional falls can happen to anyone, frequent falls without an apparent cause should be taken seriously. These incidents can lead to injuries, making it crucial to address the underlying issue promptly. Falls can result in fractures, head injuries, and other serious complications, especially in older adults.

  4. Difficulty Standing Up Struggling to rise from a seated or lying position without losing your balance can be an early sign of a balance disorder. You might feel wobbly or need to hold onto something for support. This could be due to weakened muscles, joint issues, or a problem with your inner ear. Difficulty standing up can also limit your mobility and independence, affecting your ability to perform daily activities.

  5. Blurred Vision or Double Vision Visual disturbances such as blurred vision or double vision can affect your balance. Your eyes play a crucial role in maintaining stability, and any changes in your vision can disrupt this balance. If you notice persistent visual changes, it’s essential to seek professional advice. Blurred vision or double vision can also impact your ability to drive, read, and perform other tasks that require clear vision.

  6. Nausea and Vomiting Nausea and vomiting can accompany dizziness and vertigo, especially if the balance issue is related to the inner ear. While these symptoms can have various causes, their association with dizziness should not be ignored. Persistent nausea and vomiting can lead to dehydration, weight loss, and other health complications.

Risk Factors for Balance Issues

Several factors can increase the risk of developing balance problems. Understanding these risk factors can help you take preventive measures and seek early intervention if needed.

  1. Age Balance issues are more common in older adults due to age-related changes in vision, muscle strength, joint function, and the vestibular system. As you age, it's important to stay active and address any health concerns promptly to maintain good balance.

  2. Medications Certain medications, including those used to treat high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety, can cause dizziness and affect your balance. It's essential to review your medications with your healthcare provider regularly and discuss any side effects you experience.

  3. Chronic Conditions Chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and arthritis can impact your balance. Managing these conditions effectively through lifestyle changes and medical treatment can help reduce the risk of balance problems.

  4. Inner Ear Disorders Conditions affecting the inner ear, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, and Meniere's disease, can lead to balance issues. If you have a history of inner ear problems, regular check-ups with an ENT specialist can help monitor and manage your condition.

  5. Neurological Disorders Neurological conditions, including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and stroke, can impair your balance and coordination. Early diagnosis and treatment of these disorders are crucial for maintaining mobility and quality of life.

  6. Vision Impairments Poor vision can significantly affect your balance. Regular eye exams and corrective measures such as glasses or contact lenses can help improve your vision and reduce the risk of falls.

When to Seek Help

Recognizing the early signs of balance issues is the first step towards addressing them. However, knowing when to seek professional help is equally important. Here are some guidelines:

  1. Persistent Symptoms If you experience any of the above symptoms consistently or they worsen over time, it's crucial to consult a healthcare professional. Persistent symptoms could indicate an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed.

  2. Impact on Daily Life When balance issues start affecting your daily activities, such as walking, driving, or performing household tasks, it's time to seek help. Don't wait for the problem to resolve on its own, as it might lead to further complications.

  3. Unexplained Falls If you have unexplained falls or near-falls, especially if they occur frequently, it's essential to get evaluated by a healthcare provider. Falls can lead to serious injuries, and identifying the cause is crucial for prevention.

  4. Associated Symptoms If your balance problems are accompanied by other symptoms like hearing loss, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), severe headaches, or changes in vision, seek medical attention promptly. These symptoms could indicate a more serious condition that requires immediate intervention.

Which Specialist to See

When experiencing balance issues, several types of specialists can help diagnose and treat the underlying cause. Here are the key professionals you might need to consult:

  1. Otolaryngologist (ENT Specialist) An otolaryngologist, or Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist, is often the first point of contact for balance issues, particularly if they are related to the inner ear. They can diagnose and treat conditions like benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, and Meniere's disease.

  2. Neurologist If your balance problems are suspected to be related to the brain or nervous system, a neurologist can provide a comprehensive evaluation. Neurologists specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the nervous system, including balance and coordination issues.

  3. Physical Therapist Physical therapists, particularly those specializing in vestibular rehabilitation, can help improve your balance and reduce dizziness through targeted exercises and therapy. They focus on strengthening muscles and improving coordination to enhance stability.

  4. Audiologist Audiologists specialize in hearing and balance disorders. They can perform tests to assess the function of your inner ear and vestibular system, providing valuable information for diagnosing balance issues.

  5. Geriatrician For older adults, a geriatrician can be beneficial. Geriatricians specialize in the health care of elderly patients and can address multiple factors contributing to balance problems, including medication management, muscle weakness, and underlying medical conditions.


Early recognition of balance issues and timely intervention can make a significant difference in managing these problems. If you or a loved one experiences any of the early signs mentioned above, don't hesitate to seek professional help from the appropriate specialist. A healthcare provider can diagnose the underlying cause and recommend appropriate treatments, helping you regain stability and improve your quality of life. Remember, maintaining good balance is essential for your overall well-being, and addressing issues early can prevent further complications.

Houston ENT & Allergy provides comprehensive evaluations for dizziness through their vestibular testing program, uncovering the root of balance problems. For more information, refer to their article on vestibular testing here. With their expertise, you can take the first step towards regaining your balance and improving your overall health and well-being.


Mark Nichols, MD

Mark Lynn Nichols, M.D., received his Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in Pharmacy in 1983, prior to his entering the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, where he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine with Highest Honors. Following his Internship in General Surgery, and Residency in Otolaryngology at UTMB, Dr. Nichols did a Fellowship in Otology-Neurotology at the Ear Research Foundation, in Sarasota, Florida. He is a member of several professional associations, and is a Diplomat of the American Board of Otolaryngology.