What is vertigo?
Most people have experienced vertigo or something close to it. It is important to know what vertigo is and how to identify the signs and symptoms correctly. Vertigo might be a sign of underlying serious conditions, and it should be identified and treated early.
Vertigo is a condition where you may feel your body or the environment around you spinning or moving. It may occur even with the absence of motion or when you sense a motion inaccurately. It is usually a symptom of another condition.
Depending on your symptoms, your vertigo may be considered either peripheral vertigo or central vertigo:
- Peripheral vertigo: This type of vertigo is characterized by mild dizziness and spinning that is alleviated by focusing your gaze. Symptoms are usually due to inner ear issues and can last up to a few days.
- Central vertigo: This type of vertigo is characterized by severe dizziness and spinning that does not go away with a focused gaze. It is associated with serious neurological issues and can last weeks or months.
Symptoms of vertigo
You can often identify vertigo by how you feel. It may feel like you or everything around you is spinning or you may have a general sense of imbalance. The dizziness is sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
Vertigo can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few days, or even weeks or months in a severe case.
Causes of vertigo
Your vertigo may be caused by a problem in your inner ear or brain, creating problems with your balance. Vertigo is generally considered a symptom of another condition, such as:
- Labyrinthitis: This inner ear infection is usually viral and affects the nerves involved in the balance of the body. It is also called vestibular neuronitis.
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): This occurs when small calcium particles are displaced from their normal location and start collecting in the inner ear. This condition may be associated with age and is triggered by certain head positions.
- Meniere's disease: This is a rare inner ear disorder that may be caused by fluid building up and changing pressure in the ear. That in turn may cause episodes of vertigo accompanied by ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.
- Other causes: migraine (severe headache), head or neck injury, and medication that causes ear damage.
Diagnosis for vertigo
To diagnose vertigo your doctor will take your history and get information about any symptoms you have been facing. What you tell your doctor determines a lot in deciding the diagnosis.
Your doctor may go on to do a physical exam to look for signs and symptoms of vertigo. They may examine your ear canal, eardrums, and eye movements.
In addition, they may also conduct hearing tests, including an audiometric test or an otoacoustic emissions test. If you have experienced hearing loss, your doctor may recommend a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to take a better look at your inner ear and the surrounding structures.
Other tests include:
- The rotational chair testing: Your doctor may use this test to test whether your vertigo is central or peripheral. You are put on a mechanized chair that rotates slowly while wearing special goggles that record your eye movement as the chair rotates.
- Videonystagmography testing: This test may be used to evaluate the functioning of your inner ear using visual and sensory tests. This test also tracks eye movements and your doctor may use this to check whether your vertigo is due to dysfunction of your inner ear.
If you have central vertigo due to neurological issues, you may be referred to a neurological specialist for testing and treatment.
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Treatments for vertigo
Most episodes of vertigo resolve without medical intervention. There is no one obvious best treatment for vertigo. Your treatment options will depend on your symptoms, diagnosis, and underlying conditions.
Sometimes treating another underlying disorder is necessary to help your vertigo. For example, BPPV is treated with a series of head and body positions maneuvered by a doctor to return ear calcium crystals to their usual place.
Vestibular therapy, or balance therapy, helps you learn exercises to counteract the physical disorientation of vertigo.
Sometimes medications are helpful for vertigo, and your doctor may prescribe:
Complications and side effects of vertigo
Before receiving medication to treat your vertigo, it is important to inform your doctor if you have had a history of asthma or allergies to any drugs. The medication you are given may cause serious side effects. Any medication for vertigo should be discontinued as soon as symptoms have disappeared.
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American Family Physician: "Initial Evaluation of Vertigo."
Harvard Health Publishing: "Vertigo."
National Health Service: "Vertigo."
NHS Inform: "Vertigo."
NYU Langone Health: "Diagnosing Vertigo."
NYU Langone Health: "Recovery & Support for Vertigo."
Vestibular Disorders Association: "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)."
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