When it comes to treating balance problems, there are a variety of different doctors that can help you.
It can be difficult to determine which one is right for you and, if you don’t know which doctor to go to for your balance problems, chances are you’re going to the wrong doctor!
In this article, I will discuss the different types of doctors that can help with balance problems and what they can do for you.
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Which doctors treating balance problems should you go to?
According to The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there are more than 135 medical specialties and subspecialties!
With that many medical specialties and subspecialties, you’d be forgiven if you find yourself lost in the forest of doctors!
The list below is not all-exhaustive (after all, there are over 135 choices) but it will give you a good head start on which doctor will be able to help you the most. I’ve organized the different doctors according to the balance system they specialize in:
VESTIBULAR (inner ear)
- Otolanryngologist (ENT)
- Doctor of Physical Therapy
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, ophthalmologists are eye physicians with advanced medical and surgical training.
An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats all forms of eye disease, performs eye surgery, and prescribes glasses and contact lenses to correct vision difficulties.
Common eye diseases that may affect your balance may include:
- Macular Degeneration – eye disorder associated with aging and that affects sharp and central vision.
- Cataract – clouding of the eye’s lens and is the leading cause of vision loss in the US.
- Diabetic Retinopathy – progressive damage to the blood vessels of the retina resulting in blindness.
- Glaucoma – a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness.
- Amblyopia – also referred to as “lazy eye”; affects vision because the eye and the brain are not working together properly.
- Strabismus – an imbalance in the positioning of the two eyes.
Any of these eye diseases can cause issues with your visual perception and result in imbalance and increased risk of falling.
An ophthalmologist will be able to provide you with medical and surgical solutions to improve your vision and balance.
An optometrist is not a medical doctor but received a doctor of optometry (OD) degree.
Optometrists are healthcare professionals who provide vision care. This includes testing and correcting vision, as well as diagnosing, treating, and managing vision changes.
They are involved in conducting eye tests and vision checks, issuing and dispensing glasses correction, detecting specific eye disorders, and in some states, administering medicines for certain eye diseases.
As we get older, our vision tends to deteriorate.
Getting an optometrist to update your eyeglasses or contact lens prescription is a simple but effective fall prevention strategy you can implement right away.
Otolaryngology is a medical specialty devoted to the ears, nose, and throat. Because otolaryngology specialists are trained in both medicine and surgery, it is sometimes known as otolaryngology-head and neck surgery.
An otolaryngologist is often referred to as an ear, nose, and throat doctor or an ENT and is one of the best doctors treating balance problems that can help diagnose the source of your balance problems.
The vestibular system plays a critical role in your balance and equilibrium. Any problem or dysfunction in the vestibular system (which is located in your inner ear) can have a significant impact on your ability to maintain your balance.
Common vestibular system disorders include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – this happens suddenly and is known as vertigo or a spinning sensation inside your head. BPPV is one of the most prevalent causes of vertigo when you feel dizzy or have a sensation that the inside of your head is rotating.
- Meniere’s disease – is a disorder of the inner ear that can cause dizzy spells (vertigo), drop attacks (fainting), and hearing loss.
- Labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis – labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the labyrinth, which is a maze of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear, while vestibular neuritis is inflammation of the vestibular nerve, which is the nerve in the inner ear that sends messages to the brain.
- Vestibular migraine – a neurological disease that causes recurrent dizziness (or vertigo) in people who have previously experienced migraine symptoms. You may or may not have a headache with this type of migraine, unlike traditional migraines.
Any of the above disorders affecting your vestibular system can wreak havoc on your ability to maintain your balance and equilibrium.
An otolaryngologist is the right doctor treating balance problems that can help you properly diagnose and treat these conditions.
Neurotologists are medical doctors that specialize in neurological diseases and inner-ear problems, such as skull base cancer, implantable hearing devices like cochlear implants, and bone conduction hearing aids.
To better assist you if you have a significant ear-related problem that is affecting your balance and/or hearing, a neurotologist has spent an additional two years of medical education (known as a fellowship) after completing his or her residency.
We often don’t think of a heart doctor (cardiologist) as one of the doctors treating balance problems that can help.
But many people with diagnoses related to their blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart conditions take medications directly affecting their blood pressure.
One often overlooked side effect of heart medications is a condition called orthostatic hypotension.
When you stand up after sitting or resting, your blood pressure may drop rapidly.
Orthostatic hypotension, also known as postural hypotension, is a type of low blood pressure that occurs when you stand up after sitting or lying down. Orthostatic hypotension can cause dizziness or lightheadedness and possibly fainting.
If you experience symptoms related to orthostatic hypotension, ask your cardiologist to review your medications.
Physiatrists are medical doctors specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and treat a wide variety of medical conditions affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, and tendons.
Physiatrists are one of the doctors treating balance problems as they focus their treatment on function and have a broad medical expertise that allows them to treat disabling conditions throughout a person’s lifetime.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), “Physical therapy, by 2020, will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy and who may be board-certified specialists.
Consumers will have direct access to physical therapists in all environments for patient/client management, prevention, and wellness services.
Physical therapists will be practitioners of choice in patients’/clients’ health networks and will hold all privileges of autonomous practice.”
Not all balance exercise programs work so you need an expert who can diagnose your balance impairment and design an effective balance program that will work for you.
Doctors of Physical Therapy with specialized training in vestibular rehabilitation are one of the doctors treating balance problems and the clinicians of choice to assess, treat, and manage functional problems with balance, coordination, stability, and gait (walking) difficulties.
What to do next?
Having balance problems can be extremely frustrating. You may feel like you are constantly off-kilter, and everyday activities that were once easy may now seem impossible.
If you are having balance problems, it is important to seek medical help. Use this article to find out who among the doctors treating balance problems is the best fit for you and your needs.
The different doctors treating balance problems will work with you to identify the cause of your balance problems and develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your needs.
With their help, you will be able to regain your confidence and live an active, enjoyable life.
‘Til then, stay healthy and live fully!
Dr. Lex Gonzales, PT, DPT is an author and speaker who has been a physical/physiotherapist for over 24 years. On drlexgonzales.com he provides quality information and practical solutions you can use to improve your health and function.