Does it ever feel like you’re spinning even though you’re standing perfectly still? Do you suffer from unexplainable bouts of dizziness that leave you incapacitated?
If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you may have vertigo, a condition that affects the balance centers of your inner ear and brain.
What does the inner ear have to do with vertigo?
Although it would seem like vertigo is an issue of balance, more than anything it has to do with the inner ear. The inner ear doesn’t help you hear, as the outer ear does when sound waves travel through the outer ear canal.
They travel until they reach the eardrum, which is where sound turns into vibrations. The vibrations are transmitted in the middle ear using three small bones: the incus, the malleus, and the stapes.
Then the vibrations go to the cochlea and the vestibular nerve. Once the vibrations get to this nerve, the signal gets carried to the brain and is finally interpreted as sound.
With the inner ear, there are three semicircular canals. These canals are positioned at right angles next to each other and are then lined with sensitive nerve cells.
The semicircular canals arranged near hair cells within the saccule, otoliths, and the utricle (which are tiny structures that trigger the hair cells when movement occurs) are what make up the vestibular system. It is this system that provides instant feedback to the brain, along with proprioception receptors and vision.
Proprioception receptors are sensory receptors, located on the nerve endings of various tissues, your skin, the inner ear, joints, muscles, and tendons. It is the combination of the proprioception receptors, vision, and the vestibular system that controls how we regard our body’s position in space.
What is vertigo?
Understanding how the inner ear works can make it much easier to comprehend what vertigo is. Vertigo is a sense or feeling that the world is spinning, rotating, or rocking around you, even while standing perfectly still.
Common causes of vertigo include head trauma, Meniere’s disease, or cold viruses, but there are other things that can cause vertigo as well. The commonalities with these causes are that they affect the inner ear.
If the inner ear doesn’t work properly, it can lead to losing your sense of balance.
What are the symptoms of vertigo?
The most common symptom of vertigo is feeling like you’re off balance. Other symptoms of vertigo include:
- Feeling like you’re spinning
- Feeling like you’re tilting
- Feeling like you’re being pulled in one direction
- Feeling like you’re swaying
- Hearing loss
- Jerking eye movements
- Experiencing ringing in the ears
For those who have vertigo, these symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours at a time. They may come and go on their own.
What’s the difference between dizziness and vertigo?
If you feel dizzy, that doesn’t always mean that you have vertigo. Dizziness can be an ambiguous term. If it’s vertigo, you’ll feel like you’re in motion while standing still or not moving at all.
Dizziness could also refer to near syncope when you feel like you’re about to faint or you’re lightheaded. You may experience disequilibrium and feel unstable and like you’ll fall.
Or it could even describe anxiety when you feel fearful, worried, or anxious about something. It’s also possible that you can be dizzy while experiencing several of these symptoms at the same time, like lightheadedness or you’re unstable on your feet.
You’re more likely to have vertigo if you feel dizzy, physically ill, and like you’re moving while standing still.
Can you treat vertigo?
Yes, you can treat vertigo. In some cases, vertigo may even go away on its own without needing any treatment. If you do need treatment, what kind you need depends on what’s causing your vertigo to occur.
Some of the more popular ways to treat vertigo include the following treatments:
Vestibular rehabilitation is a form of physical therapy. Unlike other kinds of physical therapy that aim to strengthen muscles, vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) is for strengthening the vestibular system.
Using this kind of physical therapy is usually recommended for those that have had recurring bouts of vertigo. With vestibular rehabilitation, the body learns how to compensate using other senses (like sight) to make up for a deficient vestibular system. VRT is an exercise-based program that uses custom exercises to address each patient’s specific problems.
Canalith repositioning maneuvers
Another treatment that’s available is canalith repositioning maneuvers. These are guidelines from the American Academy of Neurology that a physical therapist or a doctor at Chicago ENT can guide you through for a series of specific body and head movements.
These movements move calcium deposits out of the canal and into an inner ear chamber. After the calcium deposits are moved into the inner ear chamber, they can then get absorbed by the body.
As the canaliths move, it’s quite common to experience vertigo symptoms. Although it can be a bit uncomfortable, these movements are quite effective for many patients.
If you experience nausea and vomiting with your vertigo symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve these.
If your vertigo occurs due to inflammation or an infection, you may need steroids or an antibiotic to reduce swelling or to cure you of an existing infection.
In very rare cases, your doctor may opt to treat your vertigo using surgery. This usually only occurs if other treatment options have been tried and failed.
Vertigo can be a serious condition but with the proper treatment, you can learn to live with the symptoms of vertigo and improve your life significantly.
Concerned that you may be suffering from vertigo? Schedule an appointment at Chicago ENT in Chicago, IL to discuss how our doctors can help you!