Balance Disorders

Gentamicin Induced Balance Disorders

Three crucial components work together to keep us balanced when we are sitting, standing, or walking. Remove any one of the three and we lose our sense of balance. Gentamicin can destroy one of these components, the vestibular system - which is the most important, leaving only vision and proprioception. 

Staying Balanced

Your sense of balance is controlled by:

  • Vision - being able to see what is up and what is down
  • Proprioception - the feeling of pressure on the bottoms of your feet, or feeling how far your joints and muscles are flexed, all of which help provide a sense of your body’s position spatially.
  • Vestibular input - signals to the brain from the inner ear, or vestibular system

Gentamicin can kill the “hair cells” of the inner ear that sense motion, sense gravity, and provide input to the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain. Without these hair cells, the body has no internal “gyroscope” to keep the body in balance. If you have been the victim of gentamicin poisoning, your body’s vestibular system has been damaged and you must rely to a far greater degree on vision and proprioception, (feeling the ground with the soles of your feet, or feeling a chair underneath you to know which is up and down), to keep you balanced upright.

Depending upon the degree of vestibular loss, a gentamicin induced balance disorder often requires a person to use a staff or cane to help them ambulate. A person usually doesn't walk in a straight line. Rough surfaces are harder to navigate than smooth surfaces. Any distraction such as wind, loud noise, crowds, or moving objects can make it even more difficult to ambulate.

Because balance is now much more dependent upon eyesight and proprioception, any small loss of these senses is amplified.  Ambulation in the dark or low light conditions is difficult, if not impossible.  Diabetes can affect both eyesight and the sensation from the feet. Unfortunately, diabetes can greatly compound the impact of gentamicin poisoning, as can normal aging.

There is no cure for gentamicin-induced balance disorders, but treatment by a medical professional who specializes in vestibular rehabilitation or balance disorders can help you learn to compensate for the problem.

Further References Regarding Human Balance

These websites address the impact of gentamicin or similar drugs on human balance:

These websites address human balance generally:

These reference works contain information on balance disorders:

Furman, J. et al.  Vestibular Disorders: A Case Study Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment – Third Edition.  Oxford Press.  Available through .