Vertigo describes the sensation of dizziness produced by the feeling that the room or environment is spinning. This sensation can be experienced temporarily or chronically. Vertigo is not a condition itself but rather is a symptom of an underlying condition typically associated with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway. If you experience dizziness, it is essential to be evaluated and treated. There are effective treatment options that alleviate vertigo. These options enhance overall health and wellness.
Types of Vertigo
There are two main types of vertigo:
- Peripheral: this is the more common type, accounting for nearly 80% of all vertigo cases. Issues related to the inner ear typically cause peripheral vertigo. There are small organs and nerves in the inner ear that send messages (sound, motion, position) to the brain, which allow us to maintain balance. When these organs are impacted, by infection, for example, this can produce vertigo in addition to other issues.
- Central: accounts for about 20% of all vertigo that people experience and is directly associated with the central nervous system. Central vertigo can include issues with the brain stem, chronic migraines, tumors, cervical spine, etc.
Vertigo is diagnosed by a medical doctor who conducts physical examinations that can include simple movement tests, CT, or MRI scans.
Symptoms & Causes
Vertigo is most commonly described as feeling like the environment is moving or spinning in a circle. Associated symptoms include the following:
- Balance issues
- Nausea, vomiting
- Feeling lightheaded
- Tinnitus: a buzzing or ringing like noise in one or both ears
- Rapid eye movements
- Ear(s) feel full or plugged
Vertigo can be caused by a range of conditions that involve the inner ear or central nervous system. Common conditions include:
- Labyrinthitis: describes the inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth and, specifically, the vestibulocochlear nerve. This nerve is responsible for sending information about head motion and sound to the brain. The inflammation of this part of the ear is often caused by infection and, in addition to vertigo, can cause: hearing loss, headaches, pain in the ear, and tinnitus.
- Vestibular Neuritis: similar to labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis is caused by an infection that produces the inflammation of the vestibular nerve. This nerve is also in the inner ear and transmits sensory information to the brain. It doesn’t lead to hearing health issues but can cause vertigo, blurred vision, nausea, and balance issues.
- Cholesteatoma: consistent ear infections can cause skin growth behind the eardrum. This can impact the ossicles, three tiny connected bones in the middle ear; leading to vertigo and hearing loss.
- Meniere’s Disease: this condition results in an accumulation of fluid in the inner ear. Though how exactly this buildup happens is unknown, experts suggest that it could result from viral infections, autoimmune conditions, or blood vessel constrictions. Meniere’s disease is most common among adults 40-60 years old and can cause vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss.
- BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo): the otolith organs cause this specific type of vertigo in the inner ear. These organs, comprised of fluid and particles of crystals (calcium carbonate), can become dislodged, coming into contact with sensory hair cells. The contact with the sensory hair cells sends inaccurate information to the brain about motion and position, which triggers vertigo.
In addition to these common underlying conditions that produce vertigo as a symptom, vertigo can also be caused by: migraines, head injuries, multiple sclerosis, brain stem disease, and strokes.
Treating vertigo depends on the underlying cause. Bacterial infections are commonly treated with prescribed antibiotics, over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms, and other prescribed medications to treat conditions like Meniere’s disease. In addition to these medical interventions, there are useful ways you can find relief from vertigo and its impact including:
- turning off the lights and lying in a dark (or dimly lit) room. This is particularly helpful when dizziness is severe.
- performing specific movements that could trigger vertigo more slowly: getting up, turning your head, looking up etc.
- sleeping with your head raised on a few pillows.
- squatting rather than bending over to pick something up
Have you experienced challenges due to vertigo or other balance issues? We’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule a consultation.