It feels like seasickness or that dizzy moving feeling some of us get when we step off a rollercoaster -except, those suffering from this common condition aren’t boating or at an amusement park.
Vertigo is an illusory sense of spinning. It can be frightening and lead to nausea, vomiting, headaches and other symptoms. Vertigo has been linked to anxiety, a drop in blood pressure, migraines, multiple sclerosis and Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the ear that can also cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss. It can also signal a more serious condition, such as a brain tumor or stroke, although that is less common.
Many of us have felt dizziness, often caused by transient low blood pressure, the kind that happens when you stand up suddenly from a couch and feel dizzy for a few seconds. Most people have it occasionally and don’t worry about it. This is not vertigo.
The experience for vertigo sufferers is much more intense and includes a sensation that the world is whirling around them. Sufferers can also experience nausea and vomiting, symptoms which really get a person’s attention. Additional symptoms include: abnormal or jerking eye movements, headache, sweating and ringing in the ears.
Types of Vertigo
• Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV
• Vestibular neuronitis
• Meniere’s disease
BPPV occurs more frequently with age and is often caused by the formation of tiny calcium deposits or crystals within the inner ear that can destabilize equilibrium, causing people to feel as if they’re in a room that’s spinning.
Dizziness from BPPV can be triggered by minor changes in head position, such as looking up, rolling over or leaning forward. Episodes of BPPV are usually brief — measured in minutes instead of the hours or days experienced in other forms of vertigo — but they may occur frequently.
BPPV can usually be treated with simple head movements that can be done in a physician’s office or at home. There are several types of movements that can supply relief. The Epley maneuver and its variations involve moving your head through a series of positions to remove calcium deposits from the inner-ear canal.
Vestibular neuritis is an infection of the inner ear probably caused by ordinary cold viruses. All of a sudden, you feel a little woozy, and within an hour you’re ready for the ER. The nausea and vomiting usually subside within a day or two and your immune system takes care of the virus on the same schedule it takes care of the cold, but you may not move around normally for weeks or months. If you are recovering from this virus, try to force yourself to move as normally as possible as soon as you can. While difficult at first, you’ll recover more quickly.
Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear (labyrinth). With labyrinthitis the inflammation and swelling affects the messages and signals being sent to your brain. This is the part of your inner ear which often controls ones sense of balance. It can bring on a sudden feeling of whirling or spinning and the intensity can vary from mild and scarcely noticeable to severe. Labyrinthitis is often treated in much of the same way as vestibular neuritis. Usually the symptoms do not last more than a few weeks.
Meniere’s disease is a condition in which the inner ear swells up intermittently. The attacks can cause totally incapacitating vertigo along with a feeling of pressure, ringing in the ear and hearing loss in the affected ear. Each attack does a little more damage to hearing and balance.
Treatment for Vertigo
In many cases, vertigo goes away without any treatment because your brain is able to adapt to the inner ear changes. For those who need further treatment options may include:
• Vestibular Rehabilitation, a physical therapy aimed at helping strengthen the vestigular system. Essentially this treatment helps train your senses to compensate for vertigo.
• Medicine may be used in some cases to relieve symptoms such as nausea or motion sickness associated with vertigo. If vertigo is caused by an infection or inflammation, antibiotics or steroids can help reduce swelling and cure the infection. Diuretics or water pills may also be prescribed in some cases to reduce pressure from fluid build-up.
• Surgery may be needed in few cases to treat vertigo.
If you experience vertigo, you should see a doctor to rule out more serious causes. Thankfully there are simple and effective treatments to stop the spinning.
— Kurt Belk is ER physician and medical director of The Urgency Room in Vadnais Heights.