August 14, 2008 by TMO
Equilibrioception or the sense of balance is one of the physiological senses. It helps prevent humans and animals from falling over when walking or standing still.
In humans, equilibrioception is mainly sensed by the detection of acceleration, which occurs in the vestibular system. Other senses play roles as well, e.g. the visual system and proprioception.
The importance of visual input for balance is illustrated by its being harder to stand on one foot with eyes closed than with eyes open.
In the vestibular system, equilibrioception is determined by the level of fluid (called endolymph) in the labyrinth – a complex set of tubing in the inner ear.
When the sense of balance is interrupted it causes dizziness, disorientation and nausea.
Balance can be upset by Meniere’s disease, superior canal dehiscence syndrome, an inner ear infection, by a bad common cold affecting the head or a number of other medical conditions.
It can also be temporarily disturbed by rapid and vigorous movement, for example riding on a merry-go-round. See also vertigo.Most astronauts find that their sense of balance is impaired when in orbit, because they are in a constant state of free-fall while their rockets are off. This causes a form of motion sickness called space sickness.