You must have heard of the expression The world spinning around. What this expression is medically known as is vertigo. Although often used interchangeably, vertigo and acrophobia (fear of heights) are very different. It is also different from dizziness in which a person feels lightheaded. Vertigo is the feeling that objects around one is spinning around. This type of condition is called objective vertigo. Alternatively, some describe a feeling that they themselves are moving around in space. This is known as subjective vertigo.
Besides the sensation that everything around one is moving, symptoms of vertigo include loss of balance, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, and pain in the ear. It may be caused due to problems in the inner ear or in the visual mechanism.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
This is caused when a person moves his head suddenly or turns in his bed. It is caused due to debris (made of calcium carbonate crystals) that break off from the labyrinth and enter the fluid-filled cavities of the ear. When a person moves his head, these crystals brush against the sensitive hair that line the cavities. This sends confusing messages to the brain about one's orientation. As a result, a person experiences giddiness. It is also associated with nausea and vomiting and is common among older people.
The inner ear has a complex system of fluid-filled channels that play an important role in sending signal of sound and balance to the brain. This system is known as the vestibular labyrinth. Viral infection like cold and flu may spread to the labyrinth, which may trigger this condition. Although rare, labyrinthitis may also be caused due to bacterial infection. Besides vertigo, an individual with labyrinthitis may also experience ear pain and high fever.
This disease causes severe bouts of giddiness that may last from 1-24 hours. It is accompanied with hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing or booming sounds originating from the inner ear). Vertigo attacks due to Ménière's disease is accompanied with nausea and vomiting.
Vestibular neuritis refers to the infection of one of the two vestibular nerves that carry information about balance between the inner ear and the brain. This infection is viral in nature and usually follows an upper respiratory infection (common cold) or a flu.
- Acoustic neuroma (a type of tumor)
- Head or neck injury
- Long-term infection of the inner ear (chronic otitis media)
- Medicines like salicylates and quinine
In many cases this condition may clear out on its own. However, in certain circumstances a physician may recommend some antibiotics, other drugs, or surgery for its treatment. Depending upon the cause, an individual may have to resort to one of the following remedies:
Vertigo due to labyrinthitis may cure on its own. However, in some cases a physician may prescribe antibiotics. In severe cases one may need to undergo labyrinthectomy in which the vestibular labyrinth of the affected ear is surgically removed. After recovery from the surgery, the other healthy ear takes over the functions that maintain patient's balance and hearing abilities.
For Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV is treated by the Canalith repositioning procedure. In this treatment, the patient undergoes several simple head maneuvers that removes the calcium carbonate crystals from the semi-circular canals, and places them in the vestibule.
For Meniere's Disease
This disease can't be cured, however, its symptoms can be treated using medicines. In severe cases, surgery may be done to reduce the frequency of the attacks. In such surgeries some of the bones surrounding the inner ear are removed, that reduces swelling in the labyrinth.
Vertigo is not a disease, but is actually a symptom of some other disorder. Thanks to the intensive study and research into the condition of vertigo, we now have a better understanding of its causes and cures. Rare occurrence of vertigo is definitely not a cause of concern. However, if bouts of vertigo become frequent or is accompanied with conditions like chest pain, change in heart rate, speech problems, or severe headache, one should consult his/her physician immediately.