Dizziness, a blanket term used to describe any feeling of instability, is one of the leading health complaints in the United States and affects an estimated nine million people annually. For those over the age of 70, it’s the top reason for a visit to the doctor’s office.
Dizziness occurs when your brain receives false signals from the balance system (comprised of the inner ear, eyes and sensory nerves). It senses movement and overcompensates, leading to a spinning sensation, weakness and faintness.
Causes of dizziness include low blood pressure, anemia, dehydration, heat-related disorders, endocrine system disorders (e.g., diabetes, thyroid disease), heart conditions, high blood pressure, viral and bacterial infections, head trauma, hyperventilation, neurological disorders and certain medications.
Several balance disorders are commonly associated with dizziness and/or vertigo.
Patients who experience dizziness report a variety of symptoms depending on the exact nature of their balance disorder. These include:
Treatment for dizziness takes many forms, depending on the cause. Your doctor will try to target the underlying condition to reduce or eliminate your symptoms.
Options include medications (antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics, steroids), physical or occupational therapy, surgery, repositioning exercises, vestibular retraining programs and lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and elimination of alcohol and nicotine.
Vertigo is a form of dizziness characterized by the feeling that you or your environment is moving or spinning, despite the lack of any actual movement. This sensation is caused by disturbances in the inner ear or the brain.
Peripheral vertigo is associated with problems in the inner ear. The vestibular system sends signals to the brain about the position of the head in relation to movement, enabling us to keep our balance and maintain equilibrium. When these signals are disrupted, vertigo results.
This is often caused by inflammation related to a viral infection and is commonly associated with two conditions: labyrinthitis (inflammation of the inner ear’s labyrinth and vestibular nerve), and vestibular neuronitis (inflammation of the vestibular nerve).
Other causes of peripheral vertigo include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and Meniere’s disease. BPPV occurs when dislodged pieces of calcium move from the central part of the inner ear to the semicircular canals. Meniere’s disease involves excess pressure of the fluid in the inner ear.
Central vertigo occurs when there is a problem in the brain, usually affecting the brainstem or the cerebellum. These parts of the brain are responsible for interactions between the visual and balance systems; any disturbance can lead to vertigo. The most common cause of central vertigo is a migraine headache. Other less common conditions that can trigger central vertigo include stroke, tumors, acoustic neuroma, multiple sclerosis, alcohol and certain drugs.
Technically speaking, vertigo is a symptom itself, rather than a disease. It’s characterized by the sensation that you or the environment is moving or spinning. This may be accompanied by additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, tinnitus, difficulty focusing or moving the eyes, double vision and a feeling of fullness in the ear.
If you’re suffering from vertigo, your doctor will give you a thorough physical examination and may order a CT scan or MRI.
Treatment varies depending on the type and severity of vertigo. Some forms disappear without treatment. The most common type, BPPV, responds well to head maneuvers, while other types are successfully treated with medication. When the condition persists, physical therapy can help.
Call Ear Specialists of Omaha & Bellevue at (402) 933-3277 for more information or to schedule an appointment.