You’re in the shower just about to rinse the shampoo from your hair. You tilt your head back and the next thing you know the room is spinning and you are struggling to keep your balance and not wind up on the floor. Sound familiar? If you have ever experienced a scenario such as this, you may be one of the many who struggle with a condition called vertigo.
Vertigo is defined as an episode of dizziness and a feeling like you or your surroundings are moving when they are actually not. The onset of vertigo can be quite scary as it comes on suddenly and without notice, and just like with the scenario mentioned above, you could be performing the most natural tasks when the dizziness begins.
What Causes Vertigo?
Several medical conditions have vertigo as one of their symptoms. The most common causes of vertigo are:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. This type of vertigo is brought on due to problems associated with the inner ear. In patients with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, the formation of calcium crystals become dislodged, and move into one of the ear canals. The displacement of the calcium deposits result in the symptoms of vertigo.
- Meniere’s disease: Vertigo is one of the three classic symptoms associated with this medical condition. People with Meniere’s disease report experiencing a sudden onset of vertigo, coupled with bouts of hearing loss, followed by periods of remission.
- Vertigo may also occur due to a decrease in blood flow to the brain. Cerebellar hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain, is another condition commonly characterized by episodes of vertigo, headaches, and the inability to look toward the area of the brain bleed. The ability to walk is severely impaired.
- Vertigo is also a common symptom in people who suffer from neurological diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis.
- Other medical causes of vertigo may include, but are not limited to, trauma or injury to the head and/or neck; bacterial infection(s) of the middle ear; acoustic neuroma; and migraine headaches.
What are the Symptoms of Vertigo?
Patients who suffer with vertigo often complain of feeling like either they or their surroundings (or both) are spinning. It is important not to confuse vertigo with episodes lightheadedness or feeling faint. The most common symptoms of vertigo include the following:
- Abnormal eye movement
- Hearing loss or ringing in the ears
- Visual disturbances
- Generalized weakness
- Decrease in level of consciousness
- Difficulty in keeping balance and walking
Episodes of vertigo can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, and can be constant or they can occur in episodes. The onset of vertigo symptomotology may occur due to a change in the position of the head or from sudden movements. When speaking with your healthcare provider, be sure to mention any recent episodes of head trauma or whiplash, as well as any new medications you may be taking that may cause feelings of dizziness.
How is Vertigo Treated?
Treatment of vertigo symptoms will depend largely upon the diagnosis that has been made.
- A bacterial infection of the middle ear will require a course of antibiotics.
- Along with symptomatic treatment, a person with Meniere’s disease may be placed on a low sodium diet and may be prescribed medication to increase the frequency of urination.
- If a hole in the inner ear has been discovered as the culprit for recurrent infections, a referral to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor may be required, and surgery may be elected.
- In cases of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, different physical movements, coupled with prescription medication, can be used to treat the condition.
- Vestibular rehabilitation exercises are recommended until the symptoms of vertigo have subsided.
- Particle repositioning maneuver is a treatment that is recommended to move the calcium crystals discussed above back to their normal position. In this maneuver, the head is repositioned until abnormal eye movement has ceased.
The following medications are commonly prescribed as recommended symptomatic treatments of vertigo:
- Scopolamine: Available as a transdermal patch
These medications should be taken exactly as directed by your physician. Advise your doctor or healthcare provider of any other medications you may be taking at the time of your visit.
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