Vertigo is a sensation of feeling off-balance. If you have these dizzy spells you might feel like you are spinning or that the world around you is spinning.
Vertigo is a common sensation of spinning dizziness. A person may feel as though the room or surrounding environment is spinning in circles around them. Many people use the term to describe a fear of heights, but this is inaccurate.
Vertigo can happen when a person looks down from a great height, but the actual term vertigo usually refers to any temporary or ongoing spells of dizziness due to problems in the inner ear or brain.
Vertigo is not an illness but a symptom of an underlying condition. Many different conditions can cause vertigo.
Causes of Vertigo
Vertigo is often caused by an inner ear problem. Some of the most common causes include:
BPPV: These initials stand for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. BPPV occurs when tiny calcium particles (canaliths) are dislodged from their normal location and collect in the inner ear. The inner ear sends signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity. It helps you keep your balance. BPPV can occur for no known reason and may be associated with age.
Meniere’s disease: This is an inner ear disorder thought to be caused by a build-up of fluid and changing pressure in the ear. It can cause episodes of vertigo along with ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.
Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis: This is an inner ear problem usually related to infection. The infection causes inflammation in the inner ear around nerves that are important for helping the body sense balance.
Less often vertigo may be associated with:
- Head or neck injury
- Brain problems such as stroke or tumor
- Certain medications that cause ear damage
- Migraine headaches
A person with vertigo feels as though their head or the space around them is moving or spinning . Vertigo is a symptom, but it can also lead to or occur alongside other symptoms.
These may include:
- balance problem
- a sense of motion sickness
- nausea and vomiting
- ringing in the ear called tinnitus
- a feeling of fullness in the ear
- nystagmus, where the eyes move uncontrollably, usually from side to side
Treatment for Vertigo
Treatment for vertigo depends on what’s causing it. In many cases, vertigo goes away without any treatment. This is because your brain is able to adapt, at least in part, to the inner ear changes, relying on other mechanisms to maintain balance.
For some, treatment is needed and may include:
Vestibular rehabilitation: This is a type of physical therapy aimed at helping strengthen the vestibular system. The function of the vestibular system is to send signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity. Vestibular rehab may be recommended if you have recurrent bouts of vertigo. It helps train your other senses to compensate for vertigo.
Canalith repositioning maneuvers. Guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology recommend a series of specific head and body movements for BPPV. The movements are done to move the calcium deposits out of the canal into an inner ear chamber so they can be absorbed by the body. You will likely have vertigo symptoms during the procedure as the canaliths move. A doctor or physical therapist can guide you through the movements. The movements are safe and often effective.
Medicine. In some cases, medication may be given to relieve symptoms such as nausea or motion sickness associated with vertigo. If vertigo is caused by an infection or inflammation, antibiotics or steroids may reduce swelling and cure an infection. For Meniere’s disease, diuretics (water pills) may be prescribed to reduce pressure from fluid build-up.
Surgery. In a few cases, surgery may be needed for vertigo. If vertigo is caused by a more serious underlying problem, such as a tumor or injury to the brain or neck, treatment for those problems may help to alleviate vertigo.