14 February 2023

Vertigo is more than just a dizzy spell.  It is intense and can be a frightening experience.  It presents as extreme wooziness, everything is spinning or you are spinning and out of control.  It can also feel as though you are being pulled in one direction or are tilting.  It can include nausea and vomiting, sweating, ringing in the ears, headache, and abnormal eye movements.  If it lasts more than a few minutes, be sure to seek help.

Dizziness is a general feeling of being out of balance.  Vertigo gives a person the sensation that they are moving or that their surroundings are whirling around.  They are different symptoms.

It is more likely that a person over age 65 will experience vertigo and women are somewhat more likely to fall prey to this symptom.  Statistics show that at least 40% of Americans will experience vertigo at least once in their lifetime.  It is not hereditary.

There are a number of things that can cause vertigo.  Most commonly there is a problem in the inner ear.

  • Benign Paroxysmal Postional Vertigo (BPPV) is when miniscule pieces of calcium break off and land in the inner ear. There is no known reason or cause, but it is generally associated with the aging process.  The sensors in the inner ear start sending misinterpreted signals to the brain and the swaying can begin.
  • Meniere’s Disease is an accumulation of fluid in the ear that will affect the pressure. In addition to vertigo, this illness can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears).  Serious cases can result in hearing loss.
  • Infection can result in inflammation around the nerves which will affect balance.
  • There are other issues like migraines, some medications, or trauma that can be the culprit.

Generally, your brain will figure out that there is a problem and adapt.  For individual incidents, usually medication to stop the nausea or vomiting and rest will get the patient back into sync.  However, in some cases medical intervention is recommended.

  • Physical therapy called vestibular rehabilitation can be an aid to regaining control. Vestibular rehabilitation is medical speak for the body’s system that controls balance and will compensate when things go awry.  The physical therapy exercises are designed to retrain the brain to deal with recurring episodes of vertigo.
  • As mentioned, BPPV is when bits of calcium have landed in the ear canal. There are some specific movements called canalith repositioning maneuvers that can cause those calcium deposits to move out of the ear canal to a place where they can be absorbed by the body. Consult with a physician and/or physical therapist about how to perform these exercises.  This has been found to be an effective treatment if BPPV is the cause of the vertigo.
  • Medications are appropriate to control the nausea associated with vertigo. If the underlying cause is an infection or inflammation, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics or steroids.  Those who have Meniere’s disease benefit from diuretics to reduce the fluid buildup.

If you have concerns, speak with members of your medical team.

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