By Alexandra Matkevich, Registered Nurse
At ENT clinic we see a whole range of symptoms from headaches, pain, snoring, runny nose and cough. Vertigo is another complaint that we see amongst our patients with ear disorders. In fact, vertigo, dizziness and balance-related conditions are among the most common health problems in adults.
By definition, vertigo is a false sensation that you or your surroundings are moving. The sensation is best described as spinning, whirling or moving vertically or horizontally. Vertigo attacks may be constant or sporadic and can last from seconds to days. This article provides general advice only about vertigo meaning and treatment.
Vertigo does not equal dizziness
Vertigo is not the same as dizziness. Vertigo is the perception of movement. Dizziness is a light-headedness that may result in fainting. Some episodes of vertigo may be so severe that they resemble the feeling of fainting but there is no loss of consciousness.
Common causes of vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo – BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo. Crystalline calcium carbonate deposits build up and shift within the inner ear and send false signals to the brain. Specialised physiotherapy helps to break up the crystals and return full vestibular function to the patient.
Canalith repositioning manoeuvres are very effective for treating BPPV. These manoeuvres consist of a series of head movements designed to move the calcium deposits out of the canal in the vestibular system in which they’re trapped, and back to their normal position.
Ear Infection. Vestibular neuritis and labyrithitis are common infections that cause symptoms of vertigo. Anti-inflammatories, antiemetics, anti-virals and antibiotics are all potentially useful in treating these conditions.
Meniere’s disease is a progressive disease that affects the inner ear. Episodes of vertigo are often accompanied with hearing loss and tinnitus. Specific medications can help patients with Meniere’s disease and progressive muscle relaxation therapy can assist patients to cope with ongoing symptoms.
Vestibular migraines where differentiated as it’s own type of migraine in 2013. They can present with or without headache, and diagnosis is made on history and clinical presentation. Vitamin therapy, migraine prevention drugs, anti-hypertensives, SNRI’s, SSRI’s and anti-convulsents have all been identified as potentially effective treatments.
Vestibular rehabilitation is the primary treatment for many disorders and is also used along with medications. Vestibular rehabilitation includes exercises that are designed to retrain the brain to compensate for and adapt to loss of function in the vestibular system.
What to do during an attack of vertigo
Although the sensation of vertigo is unpleasant it is not harmful. If you feel you are at risk of falling, stop what you are doing and sit down. Some suggest breathing exercises to shift your focus and anxiety away from the vertigo.
Manage the anxiety
Vertigo can cause anxiety for many patients. Some patients who experience vertigo and other vestibular symptoms can find comfort in using progressive muscle relaxation therapy. Though it does not reduce symptom severity it can make the symptoms easier to cope with. Another alternative intervention – cognitive behaviour therapy – can be useful when dealing with anxiety and vertigo.
For more information about exercises for vertigo click here.
There are several potential causes of vertigo and each patient should be carefully examined to determine the underlying cause. This article is not a substitute for thorough management by a medical professional.
Less often vertigo may be associated with:
- Head or neck injury
- Brain problems such as stroke or tumour
- Certain medications may cause imbalance and vertigo, such as antihypertensives, antidepressants and chemotherapeutics.
If you are having trouble with vertigo contact to your local doctor, who can arrange for you to see an ear nose and throat specialist.