What is vertigo?
People often use the terms vertigo and dizziness interchangeably. However, dizziness is a nonspecific term that may be described as lightheadedness or a feeling of being off balance. The true definition of vertigo, on the other hand, refers to an illusion of movement or a distinct spinning sensation. Dizziness often resolves on its own or is easily treated, though sometimes may be caused by medication or another disorder.
Vertigo symptoms can often be addressed quickly with prompt treatment. If you’re one of the 2.4 million people with chronic dizziness or vertigo, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to identify the cause. The following Q & A describes the common types of vertigo as well as testing and treatments to address your symptoms.
What are the potential diagnoses related to vertigo?
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) accounts for 1/3 of all vestibular diagnoses. This condition occurs when calcium carbonate crystals that are present in the canals of the inner ear move from one canal into another. As these dislodged crystals float in the canal they trigger incorrect nerve signals to the brain, causing the patient to feel brief vertigo. Patients typically feel the symptoms of vertigo with changes in head position.
Other common causes of vertigo include vestibular migraines, inner ear infections or inflammation (such as labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis), and Meniere’s syndrome. Certain kinds of neck pain and stiffness can also cause vertigo. Occasionally vertigo is caused by a combination of two or more of these problems.
How do I go about getting help?
At The Polyclinic, our physicians will ask you specific questions regarding the onset, duration, and quality of your symptoms. Based upon your responses they will perform an exam, and if appropriate refer you to our audiologist for further testing to determine if the root cause of your vertigo is in your inner ear.
After testing, what kind of treatment is involved?
Based upon the findings, your physician may prescribe medication to help manage your symptoms. He or she may also refer you to our Physical Therapy department. Your physical therapist will develop a comprehensive treatment plan and home exercises to help decrease, or even eliminate your vertigo.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) treatment typically involves precise head movements based on which canal is involved and what type of BPPV you have (yes, there are several types). If the diagnosis is something other than BPPV, treatment may also include gaze stabilization exercises, habituation exercises, compensation/substitution exercises, education on avoidance, and substitution strategies.
Vertigo can feel like a disabling condition that prevents you from doing anything other than staying home in bed. But in most cases, it is a manageable diagnosis with a positive prognosis. Studies show that seeking treatment for vertigo can significantly shorten the recovery process.