Vertigo: Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment
Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most famous movies. It’s also the name for a form of dizziness where you feel like the room is spinning. You might notice this when you move your head suddenly, like standing up quickly or rolling over in bed.
Vertigo is actually a symptom of another health condition. Potential problems could be in either your inner ear or central nervous system. That could be an infection leading to labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, a vestibular migraine or Meniere’s disease. The most common cause of vertigo is a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.
Vestibular physiotherapy is often used to treat vertigo by training your brain to ignore false signals, enhance other sensory system information and trust that your body and surroundings are stable.
Vertigo: Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment
Feeling dizzy? It could be vertigo.
What Is Vertigo?
Vertigo causes an unpleasant sense that either:
- You’re moving, even though you’re not, or
- The room is spinning.
As well as dizziness, other symptoms of vertigo include:
- Ringing in the ears
Vertigo is commonly confused with a fear of heights (acrophobia) but that’s incorrect. Looking down from a height may certainly bring on a dizzy feeling but vertigo and acrophobia are two different conditions with different underlying causes.
How Long Does Vertigo Last?
Vertigo experience varies from one person to another. You might find that the attack is sudden but over briefly. Or it may last much longer, with constant symptoms over several days. Your symptoms could be quite mild or so severe that they interrupt your life considerably.
What Causes Vertigo?
Vertigo is actually a symptom rather than a condition in its own right.
If you’re experiencing vertigo, there may be a problem with either your inner ear (which regulates your balance) or your central nervous system.
Conditions that cause vertigo include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): Crystals of calcium carbonate get dislodged from their usual position in your inner ear and end up pressing on delicate sensory hair cells when you move. That gives your brain false information about where your body is. Your brain tries to sort out the contradictory information it’s receiving from your ears and your eyes, resulting in dizziness.
- Vestibular migraines: This type of migraine affects your vision and balance (and may or may not cause a headache too).
- Labyrinthitis: This is the result of an infection that has led to inflammation in your inner ear, which affects your balance.
- Vestibular neuritis: This is the result of an infection that has led to inflammation of the vestibular nerve, disrupting its messages to your brain that help to control your balance.
- Meniere’s Disease: This is an inner ear disorder, probably caused by fluid building up in your inner ear and creating pressure.
- Ageing effect: as the body ages there is a deterioration in the balance mechanism in your ear leading to loss of sensory information.
What Triggers Vertigo?
With BPPV, you’ll probably notice that moving your head suddenly can trigger vertigo. That often happens when you roll over in bed, stand up or bend down for something.
The dizziness caused by a vestibular migraine is triggered by the migraine itself. So, what triggers the migraine? Many things could do that, which is why you might be encouraged to keep a diary to spot what happens before a migraine. Triggers include your diet, stress levels, hormones, environment and tiredness levels.
With labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis, the trigger is the infection that caused the inflammation. It’s usually a viral infection like flu, shingles, chickenpox or cold sores. An untreated bacterial infection in the middle ear could also cause labyrinthitis.
Treatments for Vertigo
What are the treatments for this kind of dizziness? The right approach depends on the condition causing your vertigo, which is why you should see a doctor for diagnosis.
Home treatments for vertigo include:
- Sleeping with your head raised on two pillows
- Sitting up slowly in bed, wait for a moment, then stand slowly
- Trying not to bend down or stretch up to reach things (get someone to help you rearrange your kitchen cupboards and wardrobe so things are within easy reach)
- Managing your stress levels, alcohol intake and diet if those things trigger your vertigo
- Doing any exercises your doctor or therapist prescribes.
Your vertigo may disappear by itself or your doctor might prescribe medication such as:
- Antibiotics if there’s an underlying bacterial infection
- Motion sickness medications
- Diuretics to reduce fluid build-up in Meniere’s disease.
Physiotherapy Treatments for Vertigo
Your doctor may also refer you to a vestibular trained physiotherapist (like us, here at Neurospace), who can help you retrain your brain to sort out the mixed messages that cause vertigo and improve your balance.
This is known as vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT). It’s a program of special exercises that train your brain to get used to the abnormal messages your ears are sending and rely on the correct messages from your eyes and legs instead. Learning to trust those correct messages helps to restore your balance.
There’s a special variation of VRT known as the canalith reposition procedure that’s used to treat benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Your physiotherapist will guide you through a series of head manoeuvres designed to shift small crystals in your inner ear so that they stop pressing on sensitive nerve hairs.
How Can Neurospace Help With Vertigo?
At Neurospace, we focus on complex movement problems that interfere with your quality of life. We have a special interest in treating dizziness and take a systematic approach to identifying and treating vertigo and its underlying causes.
As a practice focused on neurological and vestibular physiotherapy, we’re ideally placed to help your brain and body reconcile the conflicting messages that cause dizziness. Our skills enable you to practise moving through dizziness in a safe and supportive environment.
Please make an appointment today.