10 Things to Know About Vertigo
Ever tilted your head back--and suddenly found the world spinning around you?
You likely had an episode of vertigo, which is a common but frightening experience, especially the first time it strikes. One minute you are fine, and the next you feel scarily out of control, caught in a whirling that won't stop.
What is vertigo, what can cause it, and what can you do about it? Here are 10 things you need to know.
Dizziness is marked by lightheadedness or loss of balance.
You can get vertigo at any age, but usually not before age 20. As you get older, you are more likely to experience the condition. Among people older than 65, about 30% experience vertigo at some point.
Our sense of balance is directed by our vestibular system, which is located in our inner ears. Sometimes, medical conditions occur that disrupt this system. The result: vertigo.
Medical conditions that cause vertigo include:
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): the most common cause of vertigo, typically associated with a sudden change in the position of your head
Labyrnthitis: an inflammation of the inner ear
Meniere's disease: a disorder in which fluid builds up in the inner ear
Vestibular neuritis: an infection of the nerves connecting the inner ear to the brain
Other triggers include having your head in one position for a long time, like at the dentist's office or hair salon, or while on bed rest.
Some people even get brief episodes of vertigo from playing 3D video games.
Some people experience vertigo once and never again. Other people have chronic, recurring episodes of vertigo.
Often vertigo goes away on its own. If it doesn't, it can be treated either by your general practitioner or by specialists, such as neurologists or ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is caused by tiny calcium crystals breaking free in your inner ear chamber. Doctors can use a series of exercises to move these particles so that they no longer cause problems. About 70 to 80% of BPPV sufferers are cured in a single visit.
Other kinds of exercises can help other types of vertigo. Vestibular rehabilitation exercises help people whose inner ears have been damaged by retraining the brain’s balance system. Common exercises include moving your eyes from side to side and rotating your head. Tai chi also is helpful for people with vestibular disorders.
Surgery isn't typically done unless more conservative measures have failed to work. However, it can be effective for some conditions, such as Meniere's disease.
BPPV also can be addressed surgically for patients who don't respond to particle positioning exercises. The procedure carries the risk of hearing loss.
Medications can help treat and prevent vertigo, depending on what is causing your symptoms. For example, if your vertigo is caused by vestibular migraine, you may receive medications to prevent the migraine from occurring.
Other kinds of vestibular suppressant drugs can help during sudden, temporary attacks of vertigo, but generally are not used for chronic conditions.
If you have chronic vertigo, particularly due to vestibular migraine or Meniere's disease, avoiding caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, salt and sugar can help, as well as eating and drinking regularly throughout the day to maintain a good fluid balance. People who have vestibular migraine also should avoid common migraine triggers (such as foods containing the amino acid tyramine).
If your vertigo recurs for more than a week, see your doctor. But if you also have other symptoms, like a severe new headache, fever, vision problems, trouble speaking, hearing loss, leg or arm weakness, or loss of consciousness, seek emergency help.