When vertigo, balance or dizziness sufferers walk into my office, I follow a familiar set of questions that I can use to help them understand their sensory system. My favorite: How many senses are there?
The answer, almost without fail, is five: taste, touch, smell, vision and hearing. What they don’t realize is, there’s far more — and no, I’m not talking about ESP (extrasensory perception of the mind)!
The inner ear has not just one, but two distinct and separate physical senses: hearing and the vestibular system.
Many people only associate the ear with hearing based on the external function of the auricle (external ear), the auditory canal and the tympanic membrane. But it’s the sensory organ of the cochlea that receives the external sound, transmitted by the tympanic membrane, to the bones of the middle ear. Ultimately, it goes to the “end organ” — the cochlea — which is located deep within the inner ear.
Surprisingly, the inner ear has a separate sensory organ which is essential for the function of balance. It is called the vestibular apparatus, or vestibular system.
It doesn’t help that this important system was overlooked in the early days of human anatomy. How could you explain to those around you that you have a vestibular disorder when science did not acknowledge — or explain— it in textbooks?
That’s why for many years, the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA) tried honorably to get the recognition the vestibular system deserved by asking the medical community to acknowledge it as the “sixth sense.” Unfortunately, these efforts seemed to land on deaf ears (pun intended). I blame Bruce Willis.
I figured we could skip over No. 6 and go for the seventh sense, which does not have any pre-existing public dogma surrounding its use. Brilliant, I thought!
But, as fate would have it, I found an August 2018 Scientific American magazine in my dentist’s office with a picture of the brain and the words “The Seventh Sense” on the front cover. The issue talks about how our immune systems work as sensory organs to help our brains monitor microbes throughout our bodies.
I am thrilled and impressed with the concept of our immune system as an additional sensory system. In many ways, that makes tremendous sense to me as an acupuncturist. After all, it’s only been a few months now since they announced the discovery of a new organ in the body, the interstitium, hiding plain sight in the spaces surrounding the organs, gut, lungs and muscles.
Sorry, vestibular system. The sixth sense has been taken over by a mix of proprioception advocates and those who see dead people. The seventh sense belongs to your flashier cousin, the immune system.
But before some other discovery makes claim, I would like to stand up for the vestibular system and the thousands of people who suffer when it hits a snag. I ask the medical and scientific community to honor sturdy, resilient, underappreciated vestibular system as the eighth sense — which, appropriately, utilizes the eighth cranial nerve to send its sensory messages to the brain!
The way our senses work together — all eight of them — is complex, nuanced and frankly magical. The point is, knowing how all of your senses work together will help you better understand what’s happening in your body and why — and how WUZI Online Vestibular Balance Training can put you on the path to recovery.