Dizziness is the second most common complaint heard in doctors’ offices. Statistics reported by The National Institute of Health indicate that dizziness will occur in 90 million of the nation’s population at some time in their lives. Dizziness is the #1 complaint for individuals over age 70. Although very common, acute or chronic problems with equilibrium may limit a person’s everyday living.
Vestibular disorders usually have two unique and separate levels of symptoms. These two categories have these general symptoms:
- Dizziness, vertigo or motion intolerance. Acute or sudden attacks may last only seconds or sometimes for several hours. This condition may be caused or worsened by quick or sudden head movements, turning too quickly, rolling over in bed, looking up, or riding in a car with movement beside you.
- A chronic sense of imbalance, unsteadiness that can be vague or more intense at times. There is a general fear of falling that can lead to fractures or other trauma.
According to Johns Hopkins University, 85% of all forms of dizziness and imbalance can be helped once a proper diagnosis is made.
Vertigo usually results from a problem with the nerves and the structures of the balance mechanism in your inner ear (vestibular system), which sense movement and changes in your head position. Sitting up or moving around may make it worse. Sometimes vertigo is severe enough to cause nausea, vomiting and imbalance.
Causes of vertigo may include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).BPPV causes intense, brief episodes of vertigo immediately following a change in the position of your head, often when you turn over in bed or sit up in the morning. BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo.
- Inflammation in the inner ear.Signs and symptoms of inflammation of your inner ear (acute vestibular neuritis) include the spontaneous onset of intense, constant vertigo that may persist for several days, along with nausea, vomiting and imbalance. It can be incapacitating, requiring bed rest. When associated with sudden hearing loss, this condition is referred to as labyrinthitis. Fortunately, vestibular neuritis generally subsides and clears up on its own.
- Meniere’s disease.This disease involves the excessive buildup of fluid in your inner ear. It is an uncommon condition that may affect adults at any age and is characterized by sudden episodes of vertigo lasting 30 minutes to several hours and hearing loss.
- Migrainous vertigo.Migraine is more than a headache disorder. Just as some people experience a visual “aura” with their migraines, others can get vertigo episodes and have other types of dizziness between migraines.
- Acoustic neuroma.An acoustic neuroma (vestibular schwannoma) is a noncancerous (benign) growth on the vestibular nerve, which connects the inner ear to your brain. Symptoms of an acoustic neuroma generally include progressive hearing loss and tinnitus on one side accompanied by dizziness or imbalance.
- Superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS)A rare medical condition of the inner ear, leading to hearing and balance symptoms in those affected. The symptoms are caused by a thinning or complete absence of the part of the temporal bone overlying the superior semicircular canal of the vestibular system. There is evidence that this rare defect, or susceptibility, is congenital. There are also numerous cases of symptoms arising after physical trauma to the head. It was first described in 1998 by Dr. Lloyd B. Minor of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, USA
- Other causes.Rarely, vertigo can be a symptom of a more serious neurological problem such as a stroke, brain hemorrhage or multiple sclerosis. In such cases, other neurological symptoms are usually present, such as double vision, slurred speech, facial weakness or numbness, limb coordination, or severe balance problems.
The type of symptoms, whether it is dizziness, vertigo or imbalance, often helps determine the type of problem you have. Many times we have to do multiple tests to narrow down the cause of the symptoms so that proper treatment can be prescribed. In many cases multiple professionals can be involved in the final diagnosis of vestibular symptoms.