What is vertigo? Vertigo is the sensation that the room is spinning, even when the person is standing or lying still. In some people, the sensation results in nausea or vomiting. About 10 million people visit their doctor every year complaining of dizziness or vertigo.
While vertigo and dizziness can mean the same sensation of the world spinning or whirling, dizziness can also be described as lightheadedness. This is a feeling that the person is going to faint. A person who is suffering from vertigo may also be unsteady on their feet and sometimes fall. It is more common in older people. This article will explain the symptoms of vertigo, its causes and how it can be treated.
What Is Vertigo?
Vertigo is most often caused by something wrong in the inner ear. It is made worse by movement such as rolling over in bed or moving the head. People who suffer from vertigo often suffer from nystagmus, or uncontrollable, abnormal eye movements. Their eyes twitch from side to side, rotate or move up and down. This can worsen the loss of balance that already comes with the vertigo. Doctors suspect that a patient has had a stroke or suffered some other kind of brain injury if these symptoms last more than a few days or if the vertigo is accompanied by weakness.
Symptoms of Vertigo
People who suffer from vertigo not only feel that the room is spinning but that they are being tugged to one side or that they are swaying or tilting, as if they are on a boat in rough seas. They may also sweat profusely. Attacks of vertigo can last for a few minutes or can last for hours. They may stop then resume.
Causes of Vertigo
Many things can cause vertigo. Central vertigo is caused by something wrong with the central nervous system, and peripheral vertigo is the result of an inner ear problem. Illness can inflame the inner ear, or the tiny crystals that are naturally found there can be knocked out of place. These crystals are called canaliths, or otoliths. They are normally found in the otolithic membrane in the inner ear, but they can be knocked into the inner ear’s semicircular canals. When this happens, they irritate the tiny hairs there and cause vertigo. This type of vertigo is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV.
In some cases, vertigo is caused by an inflammation of the ear’s labyrinth, which are fluid-filled canals and sacs in the inner ear. This not only causes vertigo but ringing in the ear and some degree of hearing loss.
Labyrinthitis is often caused by a viral infection, but does not have to be. It may also be the result of injury or another type of infection. The risk of this type of vertigo increase if the person has an upper respiratory viral infection; if they are stressed; if they have allergies; if they smoke or abuse alcohol. Some medications, including those that treat hypertension, seizures and depression can raise the risk of contracting labyrinthitis, as can cardiovascular disease. In rare cases, a cyst in the middle ear cause vertigo.
Meniere’s disease is similar to labyrinthitis. It affects the semicircular canals in the ear and usually affects only one ear. The symptoms come on suddenly and are similar to those of labyrinthitis, but the patient may also suffer upset stomach, diarrhea and headache. Doctors do not know what causes Meniere’s disease.
What is vertigo? Vertigo can be a symptom of multiple sclerosis or tumors. There is a type of migraine headache that has vertigo as one of its symptoms. This is called a basilar artery migraine. These headaches originate in the patient’s brainstem and also bring double vision and incoordination as part of the aura, or the symptoms that arise before the pain of the headache.
For most people, vertigo goes away on its own because the brain compensates for the problem in the inner ear and uses other bodily systems to help the person regain their balance. Other patients need medical treatment. This can include:
1. Vestibular Rehabilitation
This is a physical therapy that supports the right functioning of the vestibular system in the inner ear or helps the patient’s other senses to compensate for the problem. In some cases, this is enough to cure a patient’s vertigo. They are taught how to stabilize their vision, correct their posture and balance, increase the mobility of their neck by doing stretching exercises and perform exercises to improve their general fitness. Vestibular rehabilitation is tailored to the needs of each patient. They usually have physical therapy one or two times a week for six to eight weeks.
2. Repositioning Canaliths
Some people find relief through the Semont-Liberatory maneuver or the Epley maneuver. The latter is a canalith repositioning procedure, or CRP that moves the crystals out of the semicircular canal and eases the symptoms of vertigo. The canaliths can either return to the otolithic membrane or migrate to a place where they are harmless. The body can also dissolve or break them up.
This procedure needs to be done with the help of a professional who can monitor the patient’s eye movements, and protect them from back or neck injury as they undergo the treatment. Sometimes, the patient is given a sedative such as Valium to suppress their nausea. Before the procedure is attempted, the doctor finds out which ear canal has he problem through the Dix-Hallpike test. They also find the exact location of the canaliths. The doctor also must know if the patient is a good candidate for the procedure. Patients who suffer from such conditions as GERD or a detached retina may not be.
The patient undergoes several treatments a day for a few days. They then have more treatments for two days after they no longer experience vertigo.
When it comes to what is vertigo, most bouts of the condition are benign, but only in the sense that they don’t threaten the person’s life. Other than that, the symptoms are ghastly and debilitating. The good news is that peripheral vertigo is treatable and have a high cure rate. Even vertigo caused by other conditions should respond when the condition is treated.