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Commonly referred to as the sense of balance, equilibrioception is one of the key physiological senses in both animals and humans. Necessary for movement as well as for remaining upright, the process of equilibrioception takes place in the vestibular system. When some factor impacts the function of the system, the sense of balance is undermined and mobility becomes extremely difficult to achieve.
One of the key components of the vestibular system is the inner ear. It is here that fluid known as endolymph is housed in the labyrinth. The movement of the endolymph within the labyrinth helps to maintain proper balance and allows humans to be able to walk upright, as well as to stand in one position for longer periods of time. When the function of the inner ear is compromised in some manner, the individual begins to experience periods where standing or walking are less comfortable. In some cases, these activities may become impossible.
When equilibrioception is negatively impacted by illness or some other factor, several symptoms may emerge. Often, the individual may experience periods of dizziness when attempting to stand or walk. In extreme cases, the individual may be bedridden and unable to even sit up in bed. Nausea is also a common symptom associated with balancing problems. The degree of nausea experience ranges from mild discomfort to a strong sense of being about to regurgitate.
Disorientation may also be a sign of some sort of issue with equilibrioception. The individual may experience a sense of vertigo, not being able to determine which way is up or down. When coupled with nausea, the disorientation can quickly lead to a sense of panic and cause the sufferer to reach a state where the body and mind take steps to shut down by fainting.
Just about everyone experiences some problem with equilibrioception at some point in time. The sense of balance may be temporarily impacted by illnesses such as the common cold. As the condition weakens and recovery begins, equilibrioception usually returns to normal. For people with a particularly sensitive balance, even activities such as riding on a merry-go-round may have an adverse effect on equilibrioception.
While most occurrences of problems with equilibrioception are short lived, any continuing or recurring problems with balance should be reported to a physician immediately. Often, the cause can be quickly identified and effective treatment administered that will restore the sense of balance in a very short period of time.
I heard in a class that proprioception originates in the middle ear. This is not correct.... right? Proprioception is in the muscles.... balance is in the ear. Please clarify.
Moderator's reply: Proprioception doesn't originate in the middle ear. Check out our What is Proprioception? article for more information.