- Falling down and fumbling while learning to walk is a normal part of child development.
- However, balance and dizziness issues in childhood may point to a larger complication.
- According to clinical audiologist Natanya Ruso, the connection between balance, dizziness and hearing issues is not well known and is often "poorly detected and diagnosed in children".
Losing balance, stumbling and taking face-first falls are nothing new during childhood.
These little spills are usually considered a normal part of growing up, especially among the youngest still learning the ins and outs of their newfound mobility.
But while coordination issues are prominent among young children, how can parents tell when these falls and fumbles indicate a more significant issue?
According to clinical audiologist at Equilibrium Audiology Natanya Ruso, difficulty maintaining balance coupled with dizziness issues could underly a hearing problem.
"Up to 70% of children with hearing loss of various causes may present with vestibular dysfunction and subsequent balance and dizziness issues," Ruso says.
'The prevalence in childhood'
"The ability to maintain balance is achieved by the integration and coordination of sensory and motor information received by the brain from the eyes, muscles and joints, and inner ear. When there is a disruption to any of these systems, a person may experience impaired balance and dizziness," Ruso explains.
Adding, Ruso says that this connection between balance and hearing issues is not only lesser-known but "unfortunately poorly detected and diagnosed in children".
"Mostly because children cannot describe their symptoms well and are unable to understand concepts of dizziness and imbalance. Certain clinical studies estimate the prevalence in childhood to be approximately 10%".
What are the signs?
"In general, children with balance and dizziness disorders might display problems with equilibrium, presenting with unsteadiness making it hard to stand up, walk, turn corners, or climb the stairs without falling, tripping or bumping into things", Ruso highlights of the specific coordination issues parents should look out for.
Additionally, unusual walking patterns are also a red flag, "such as walking with their legs far apart," Ruso notes.
If your child is old enough to explain how they feel, Ruso advises parents to look for descriptions like spinning, swinging, "or feeling like they are on a merry-go-round".
The clinical audiologist also points out the below as additional indicators that point to a larger issue:
- Delayed milestones
- Nausea and vomiting
- Nystagmus (involuntary eye movements)
"Older children may also present with poor spatial relationships, such as skipping words or letters when reading, and a disorganised writing style".
'Many of the causes are treatable'
If the above list resonates with what you've observed in your child, Ruso recommends taking a deeper look with a number of experts, including an ear, nose and throat specialist, neurologist, neuro-otologist and vestibular audiologist.
"Vestibular Audiology is a relatively new field in South Africa but is rapidly growing and often overlooked, especially in the paediatric population. Children should also be referred to neuro-optometry to further assess the visual system as well as occupational therapy to assess functional impairments," she advises, urging that "a collaborative approach is vital".
Unfortunately, balance and dizziness issues could impact other vital functions if left undiagnosed and untreated.
"Balance and dizziness disorders which occur early in childhood slows the child's development of equilibrium and protective reflexes, therefore, affecting motor control tasks, such as sitting unsupported, standing and walking. It can also impair the child's vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR), which is responsible for maintaining clear vision during head movements. This can negatively impact the child academically as stable vision is essential for learning to read and write," clinical audiologist says.
Any tips and advice for parents whose children are dealing with balance and dizziness issues?
Ruso urges parents not to ignore their children's complaints about dizziness or imbalance, and reassures that treatment to address these issues are successful, especially early on as "early intervention is key".
"It is often seen that children typically respond more quickly to the treatment compared to adults because of their brain's ability to learn, as well as modify and adapt its structure and function according to experience. This amazing phenomenon is known as neuroplasticity. In cases where there is disruption to the vestibular organs of the inner ear, the effectiveness of treatment depends on the cooperation, patience and understanding of parents and caregivers in supporting compliance".
You can reach Natanya Ruso or Lara Benigson from Equilibrium Audiology on:
- (011) 268 0491
Find a qualified audiologist through the Reconnect Audiology Network.
Share your stories and questions with us via email at email@example.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.
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