Vertigo: The inner ear’s roller coaster effect


Vertigo is an off balanced sensation that makes a person feel like they are spinning and dizzy. There are a number of reasons one might experience this. It is most commonly associated with inner ear problems because the inner ear sends signals to the brain about movement. Other causes include Meniere’s disease, which is the buildup of fluid that causes pressure in the ear. Meniere’s can also cause ringing in the ears as well as hearing loss. Another cause of vertigo is associated with BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) which is when tiny calcium particles clump up in the canals. An infection called vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis can cause inflammation in the inner ear. Other causes include migraines, stroke, tumors, medications, or head or neck injuries.

Vertigo can be triggered by changing the position of the head that causes a spinning, swaying, or unbalanced sensation. This can lead to headache, vomiting, ringing in the ears, or hearing loss.

For many people vertigo will go away on its own. The brain has the ability to adapt to the triggers. However, for some more direct treatment is needed. Vestibular rehabilitation includes physical therapy that strengthens the vestibular system. The vestibular system is responsible for sending signals to the brain for movement in accordance with gravity. Part of this treatment is training the brain to adapt to vertigo symptoms. Medications that can treat nausea and motion sickness can be used as well for vertigo purposes. If the inner ear is swollen, antibiotics can be used or steroids that can help reduce inflammation. Water pills can also help get rid of fluid in the ear, especially if the cause is Meniere’s disease. Surgery can be performed if there is a tumor, neck, or brain injury. Canal repositioning maneuvers can be done to help move the calcium out of the ear canals to be absorbed by the body (this is used to treat BPPV).

Feeling woozy and disoriented can disrupt daily living activities. Vertigo can last for hours or even days. Children try to create the sensation by spinning in circles for this temporary dizziness. Even little movements can heighten the feeling of vertigo. Turning over in bed can increase the uneasy feeling. It is important that a doctor clarify if symptoms are vertigo or if they are more from feelings of faintness or lightheadedness. A patient might be asked to perform coordination tests. They might be asked to walk to look for balance problems or be asked to slide one heel up the other heel again looking for balance. Health care professionals can work with the patient to reduce symptoms. One shouldn’t feel like they just got off a roller coaster in their day to day life. Vertigo can really cause distress, but help is available and should be sought after.

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Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has a Doctorate in Health and Human Performance, M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor. She has 6 books on Amazon too,.