In addition to serving as the organ of hearing, the ears have a significant role in the control of balance. The inner ears house the semicircular canals and otolithic organs - the sensory organs of the vestibular system - the most rapid sensors of the body's motion.

Doctor with patient experiencing vertigoAs the ears sense movement, they send signals to the muscles of the eyes, neck, trunk, arms and legs. These signals allow those organs to maintain a stable position even as the body and head undergo complex motions. Were it not for the vestibulo-ocular reflex (the reflexive control of eye position in response to signals from the ear) we would not be able to keep our gaze fixed on an object as we moved about. In fact, certain patients with loss of inner ear function experience oscillopsia, i.e. the abnormal perception of movement of their visual field as they move about in their daily activities.

A more common symptom that arises from disturbances of the inner is vertigo. Vertigo is either the perception of motion when no movement is present, or the abnormal perception of motion in response to movement. When the vestibular system functions improperly, a person may feel like they are moving even when they are not. There may also be unsteadiness while moving, because the experience of each movement — and the sensation that is felt - is not what the body and brain are used to feeling.

Vertigo is not a disease; it is a symptom of disease. Just like pain in your leg can be caused by many different things — bumping into something, fracture of the bone, clogged blood vessels” — so too can the sensation of vertigo be produced in many different ways.