What Is Vertigo?
Vertigo, also referred to as a balance disorder, is feeling motion when no motion is occurring. The causes of vertigo include a problem with the inner ear’s balance mechanisms or issues within the brain. Although vertigo is harmless, it can indicate a serious condition if it is accompanied by symptoms such as difficulty speaking or walking, double vision or severe headaches. Even if no other symptoms exist, we recommend that anyone experiencing vertigo be examined by one of our ENT specialists, but treatment is especially important if your symptoms worsen.
What is Dizziness?
Dizziness can be described in many ways, such as feeling lightheaded, unsteady, giddy, or feeling a floating sensation. Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness experienced as an illusion of movement of one’s self or the environment. Some experience dizziness in the form of motion sickness, a nauseating feeling brought on by the motion of riding in an airplane, a roller coaster, or a boat. Dizziness, vertigo, and motion sickness all relate to the sense of balance and equilibrium. Your sense of balance is maintained by a complex interaction of the following parts of the nervous system:
• The inner ear (also called the labyrinth), which monitors the directions of motion, such as turning, rolling, forward-backward, side-to-side, and up-and-down motions.
• The eyes, which monitor where the body is in space (i.e., upside down, right side up, etc.) and also directions of motion.
• The pressure receptors in the joints of the lower extremities and the spine, which tell what part of the body is down and touching the ground.
• The muscle and joint sensory receptors (also called proprioception) tell what parts of the body are moving.
• The central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which processes all the information from the four other systems to maintain balance and equilibrium.
The symptoms of motion sickness and dizziness appear when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the other four systems.
Feeling unsteady or dizzy can be caused by many factors such as poor circulation, inner ear disease, medication usage, injury, infection, allergies, and/or neurological disease. Dizziness is treatable, but it is important for your doctor to help you determine the cause so that the correct treatment is implemented. While each person will be affected differently, symptoms that warrant a visit to the doctor include a high fever, severe headache, convulsions, ongoing vomiting, chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, inability to move an arm or leg, a change in vision or speech, or hearing loss.
How is Vertigo Treated?
Individual treatment for vertigo depends on the causes and the severity of the attacks. If vertigo is caused by a bacterial infection in the middle ear, the infection is treated with antibiotics. In more serious cases, an ENT might recommend surgical intervention. The medications used to treat the condition can be taken intravenously, by mouth or through a skin patch.
The most common treatment for vertigo uses physical maneuvers, known as vestibular rehabilitation exercises. The exercises involve having the patient lie down on a table on one side until the condition subsides. The patient then turns to the other side quickly. The movement is repeated until the vertigo no longer is felt.