Vertigo is characterized by the sensation of feeling off balance. It can involve experiencing dizzy spells or feeling like the room you are in is spinning. Vertigo can be a temporary or chronic symptom of an underlying condition. It is typically associated with health issues involving the inner ear, auditory centers in the brain, or nerve pathways. There are effective treatment options that alleviate vertigo so it is important to be assessed if you experience any symptoms.
Types of Vertigo
Vertigo is categorized into two types:
- Peripheral: the most common type of vertigo, peripheral vertigo accounts for nearly 80% of the vertigo people experience. It is most often caused by issues or damage that happen in the inner ear. There are organs, cells, and nerves in the inner ear which send information related to sound, motion, and head position to the brain. This messaging helps us maintain balance so when any of these components are impacted, it can lead to vertigo (and other conditions like hearing loss).
- Central: this type of vertigo is less common but accounts for 20% of all cases of vertigo. Central vertigo is related to the central nervous system and conditions that involve tumors, chronic migraine, the brain stem, spine etc.
It is important to be examined by your doctor if you experience dizzy spells or issues with balance. Doctors use different diagnostic testing to identify vertigo. This can include tests that involve simple movements and motions, CT scans, MRI’s etc.
Symptoms & Causes
The experience of vertigo is usually triggered by the position of your head changing or other movement like standing up. Vertigo often causes people to feel unbalanced, the room feels like it is spinning around you, and you may feel like you are tilting or swaying. This produces additional symptoms including:
- Nausea, vomiting
- Tinnitus: a ringing or buzzing like noise in one or both ears
- Rapid eye movements
- Ears feel full or plugged
These symptoms can vary in intensity and can be experienced for a few minutes to hours. Vertigo can be caused by several health conditions including the following:
- Vestibular Neuritis or Labyrinthitis: this typically results from inflammation experienced in the inner ear – specifically around the nerves that help send information about motion and sound to the brain; helping the body maintain balance. This inflammation is usually caused by viral infections which can also lead to hearing loss, headaches, and tinnitus.
- Cholesteatoma: chronic ear infections can produce skin growth or cysts behind the eardrum. This can invade the middle ear and impact the ossicles, three connected bones that help propel soundwaves into the inner ear which can trigger vertigo.
- Meniere’s Disease: this condition involves excess fluid that builds up in the inner ear. What causes this accumulation of fluid is unknown but experts suggest that it could be from viral infections, autoimmune disorders, or issues with blood vessels. Meniere’s disease can cause vertigo, tinnitus, and hearing loss.
- BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo): this specific type of vertigo involves the otolith organs in the inner ear. These organs contain fluid and calcium carbonate which can become dislodged from their original position. This dislodging allows these particles to come into contact with sensory hair cells, disrupting the information about motion that gets sent to the brain.
In addition to these medical conditions, other causes of vertigo can include: chronic migraines, head or neck injuries, strokes, and tumors.
Fortunately, there are various ways vertigo is treated. Treatment depends on the underlying cause and can include:
- Medications: bacterial and viral infections producing inflammation in the inner ear can be treated with antibiotics, over the counter medications can be used to alleviate vertigo symptoms, and other prescribed medications can treat conditions like Meniere’s disease.
- Vestibular Rehabilitation: this is a form of physical therapy designed to strengthen the vestibular system which sends information to the brain related to motion.
- Canalith Repositioning: facilitated by a doctor or physical therapist, this form of therapy is specifically to treat BPPV. It involves movements that help move the calcium deposits that become dislodged.
- Surgery: surgical options may be considered if the underlying condition involves tumors or injuries related to the head or neck.
In addition to these treatment options, there are various strategies you can use to alleviate vertigo including running off or dimming lights, sleeping with your head raised on pillows, and performing specific movements more slowly. Are you experiencing vertigo symptoms? We’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.