Science of Balance

I believe it would be helpful to provide some basic anatomical information to provide you with a better understanding to what a vestibular system is and why it’s so important to our balance, connection to our surroundings, our center and, to gravity.  After all, I had no idea something like this existed in my body so how can I expect you to know either.  Let’s start with an illustration of the vestibular system that is the major area of damage from ototoxity (ear poisoning) which my case, was a result of a side effect from the use of the antibiotic gentamicin.  The vestibular system is located in the inner ear:

Image

Image from Google Images

When gentamicin is eliminated in the body, as all things are like liquids, solids, and yes, medications, for some reason gentamicin is eliminated through the kidneys and strangely enough, the inner ear.  Through this elimination the hair cells in the vestibular mechanism of the inner ear are damaged and can no longer pick up the signal of the body’s movement, or provide the connection to the sense of balance or gravity.

Image

Image from Google Images

What this illustration demonstrates are the inner working components of the vestibular system.  Keep in mind, these parts are microscopic in nature but is how information of balance gets to the brain.  It all begins with the otoliths at the top of this illustration.  These cause a movement in the otolithic membrane which is a Jello like substance that moves in correspondence to the many ways our body moves around.  This shift in this membrane tickles the hair cells which send signals to the vestibular nerve fibers that movement has taken place.  The vestibular nerve corresponds to the eight cranial nerve of the brain that sends signals that movement has occurred.  Without this signal, there are no messengers telling the brain, or the body, where it is in space.  There is a complete disconnection between the body and its ability to perceive what is up, down or sideways, much like zero gravity in outer space.

 Zero Gravity

Photo from Google Images

Only thing wrong with this photo is when one has vestibular damage, this feeling isn’t all that fun…. You feel this way all the time..

ImageImage from Google Images

Because there is a direct correlation between the vestibular system and the visual, or ocular system, an corresponding side effect of a damaged vestibular system is a visual condition called, oscillopsia, or bouncy and blurry vision.  Here’s a great illustration from YouTube of what that looks like:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsD3RDUqgJU

Here’s a pretty good picture of what it looks like to see with oscillopsia:

 Image

Image from Google Images

           The vestibular and ocular systems work together because of the connection that travels from the vestibular organ in the inner are to the optical system.  Weird, huh?

          I hope this gives you a better understanding of why I lost my sense of balance and what oscillopsia looks like.  Put the two together and wow, what a mixed up world it becomes…  and really, really hard to live with…  and noisy physically and psychologically beyond words…

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