Balance is one of the most important gross motor skills a child learns. What seems natural to us now actually takes time to learn. Most children achieve balancing milestones between four months and two years, and there are several activities that you can do to help your toddler improve balance. Between these ages, the child will learn how to balance their head, walk independently and climb up or down the stairs, among other key milestones.
However, some children are unable to reach these milestones due to various balance problems and disorders. In fact, a study by NIH shows that this is common among children affecting 1 in 20 children. Such problems can affect your child’s daily activities like walking, riding a bike, or playing.
Causes of Balancing Disorders
Balancing involves different areas in our bodies, including the brain, eyes, ears, joints, and muscles. When one part of these areas is affected, it can also affect balancing in your child. As such, many factors can cause balance disorders or problems in a child:
- Ear infections
- Poor blood circulation
- Inner ear problems
- Head or neck injuries
Symptoms of Balancing Disorders
Balancing issues in children may be hard to recognize or diagnose. Children with balancing problems or disorders usually seem uncoordinated. However, certain signs indicate that a child has issues with balancing, and recognizing these signs will help in early detection and treatment.
Symptoms are not the same in all children. However, below are some signs that children may show if they are suffering from balancing problems.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness: The child may feel as though they are about to faint. This may be difficult to assess in children who are not able to express themselves and explain exactly what they are feeling.
- Nausea and vomiting: This usually accompanies the feeling of dizziness, and the feeling may end when the child lies down.
- Frequent headaches.
- Confusion or disorientation.
- Blood pressure and heart rate changes.
- Staggering or walking with their legs apart: This will prevent children from climbing stairs without falling or walking on uneven or dark paths.
- Sense of the world spinning or Vertigo: Vertigo is a sudden feeling that the room is spinning and can occur without an eardrum problem.
- Blurriness or visual impairment: The eyes help to interpret the world around us. Kids with balance problems may not be able to see clearly, which may affect their reading and writing.
- Clumsiness: The child may not be able to walk without bumping into walls, dropping what they are carrying, or stumbling.
Diagnosis of balance problems
If you suspect your child is suffering from a balance problem, you can take them to your doctor or pediatrician. They will assess your child and determine whether they have a balance disorder by reviewing your child’s medical history and issuing certain tests such as:
The first thing your doctor may recommend is a hearing test. This is because hearing problems are usually the number one cause of balance problems.
Rotary chair test.
This test examines your eye movements when you are in a computer-controlled chair.
Blood pressure and heart rate tests.
Your child’s blood pressure may be checked to see if it suddenly drops. The heart may also be checked to see if it is causing the problems.
Your doctor may suggest an MRI or CT scan to see if any issues are causing the balance problems.
It measures your balancing capabilities on different platforms.
Videonystagmography or VNG records eye movements.
Your child will be made to wear visual recording goggles and asked to focus on a specific visual object.
The Dix-Hallpike maneuver.
It is used to test for vertigo, where your doctor will turn your head in different directions to assess your sense of motion.
Vestibular-evoked myogenic potential or VEMP
It analyzes the inner ear by using sensory pads on the neck and head.
Electronystagmogram or an ENG test
It looks for involuntary eye movements using electrodes put around the eyes.
Treatment of Balance Problems
Many balance problems are temporary and can be treated easily. The treatment will vary depending on the child and the symptoms they present, and the doctor may prescribe:
Diet or lifestyle changes.
Your doctor may recommend a reduction in your child’s salt intake, an increase in fluid intake, or compression socks.
This involves balance retraining. A trained therapist will create a program suited to your child and prescribe a cane or balance aid.
The doctor may prescribe certain medications depending on what is causing the balance problem. For example, antibiotics may be prescribed if your child has an ear infection, corticosteroids to reduce dizziness or antinausea drugs to reduce nausea.
Your doctor may propose surgery if diagnosed with Meniere’s disease or acoustic neuroma.
Children will fall from time to time. Therefore, do not panic when this happens. You should only worry when you notice a pattern of regular falls or clumsiness.
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