Things You Need to Know About Vertigo

What are the things you must know about vertigo?

  1. Vertigo is dizziness, but worse
  2. Vertigo has two common causes
  3. Vertigo is a symptom, not a condition

Feeling unsteady, nauseated, or dizzy, are some of the signs of vertigo. Vertigo is the false sensation of movement and it can affect more than 40 percent of people over the age of 40. This condition can stem from problems a person might have in their inner ear, in their brain, or in their spinal cord. There are a lot of things a person can do about this condition, but the best way to deal with vertigo, much like diabetes, is to take medicine for it.

While many of you have probably experienced some kind of dizziness at one point or another, the dizziness someone with vertigo experiences can interfere with and can be all consuming in their day-to-day life. Here are things you need to know about this balance disorder that will make your head spin.

What is vertigo?

First and foremost, vertigo is much more than just your everyday dizziness. Vertigo is a sense of motion even when you’re steady and in place. According to experts in the field, when a person has vertigo, they might feel that the room is spinning around them or swaying like a boat that is about to capsize.

Your sense of balance depends on the signals that your sensory nerves, inner ear, and eyes all report back to your brain. If the signals that were sent by your inner ear do not match up with what your sensory nerves and eyes are reporting, your brain has to sort through the confusion. This is what then leads to vertigo.

In addition, the severe spinning motion caused by vertigo usually leads to vomiting, nausea, and difficulty walking.

Vertigo can feel like the room is:

  • Spinning
  • Tilting
  • Swaying
  • Unbalanced
  • Pulled to one direction

Other symptoms that may come with vertigo include:

  • Feeling nauseated
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal or jerking eye movements
  • Headache
  • Sweating
  • Ringing in the ears or hearing loss

Vertigo has two common causes

Diagnosing vertigo

If you think you have vertigo, you will need to go to your doctor to be properly diagnosed. Your doctor will diagnose your condition based on your description of your symptoms. There are two main categories of vertigo: peripheral vertigo and central vertigo. 

  1. Peripheral vertigo, which is the more common category, includes benign positional vertigo, labyrinthitis and Ménière’s disease. Positional vertigo is diagnosed when movement of the head causes the patient’s vertigo while returning it to a neutral position alleviates its symptoms. Labyrinthitis and Ménière’s attacks usually occur without warning and can last between a few hours to several days. This type of vertigo can be accompanied by intense nausea and vomiting as well as variable hearing loss.
  2. Central vertigo is a more serious condition which involves the cerebellum, or the back part of the brain, or the brain stem. To diagnose this, your doctor will need to check your eye and look out for any abnormal jerking movements (nystagmus). Your eye movement will help determine if the vertigo type is peripheral or central. If you are suspected to have central vertigo, your doctor may need you to go through a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out any other conditions.

Common causes of vertigo

Vertigo can be caused by two things: the first cause is a virus called labyrinthitis. This is an infection in the inner ear that causes the labyrinth to become inflamed.

The second cause of vertigo is a problem with the inner ear called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. This happens when the calcium crystals in the inner ear become dislodged and send false messages to the brain that you are in motion. According to experts, this can happen during a sudden, jarring motion like after a strong blow to the head or riding a roller coaster. There is no known reason why BPPV occurs, but it is likely triggered by age.

Vertigo can also be caused by inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s Disease, an excessive build-up of fluid in the inner ear. This can cause episodes of vertigo which is accompanied by ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.

Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis is another inner ear problem related to infections (typically viral) which can cause vertigo. The infection causes inflammation in the inner ear around the nerves which are essential in helping the body sense balance.

Less common causes of vertigo are injuries such as:

  • Head or neck injury
  • Brain problems such as stroke or tumor
  • Certain medications that cause ear damage
  • Migraine headaches

Vertigo treatment

Treatment for vertigo will depend on what’s causing it. In most cases, vertigo can go away on its own. This is because the brain is a high-functioning organ and is able to adapt quickly to inner ear changes, relying on other signals from the body to maintain balance. 

For other causes of vertigo, treatment may include:

  • Vestibular rehabilitation – this type of physical therapy involves strengthening the vestibular system. The vestibular system is what sends signals to the brain about the head and body movements in connection to gravity.
  • Canalith repositioning maneuvers – The American Academy of Neurology recommends a series of specific head and body exercises specifically designed for BPPV. The intention of these is to dislodge the calcium deposits out of the canal into an inner ear chamber so they can be absorbed by the body. Do not perform these on your own without first consulting a doctor or physical therapist.
  • Medicine – In some cases, medicine may be given to relieve the symptoms that accompany vertigo like nausea or even motion sickness. If your vertigo is caused by an infection or inflammation, antibiotics or steroids may be prescribed to deal with the swelling or get rid of the infection.

Key Takeaway

Fortunately, you don’t have to live with vertigo because you can take the right medicine for it or undergo the proper treatment. The more you know about vertigo, the better you can battle and deal with it.