Vertigo is one of many types of dizziness that make people seek medical care. Vertigo is not a disease in and of itself. The diagnosis of vertigo is an incomplete diagnosis because it is a symptom of an underlying disease.
Vertigo is the sensation of dizziness whereby the person experiences the feeling of motion or movement when there is none. The feeling of movement might seem as if the room is moving or that you are moving when you are not or lastly, that objects in the room are moving. The vertigo can cause nausea and/or vomiting, nystagmus where your eyes may flick in a direction during an attack or your hearing may get muffled in one ear.
Vertigo Causes and Treatments
There are different diseases that cause vertigo, many of which are associated with the inner ear.
Benign Positional Vertigo: This is a disease that impacts the semicircular canals in the inner ear which serve as the balance centers in the brain. With BPV there are usually brief spells of spinning when you turn in certain directions. Most commonly, this occurs when turning to one side while lying in bed. Leaving that position usually stops the spinning. Although the dizziness usually is brief, a sense of being off balance may last longer. This illness is caused by microscopic particles forming in one or both inner ears called otoliths. When these particles are stirred up, they float around in the inner ear fluid bumping into other inner ear structures and causing you to feel as if you are spinning. Once you determine which ear is involved, these particles can be re-positioned by a physical therapy maneuver so as not to float around causing problems.
Vestibular Neuronitis: With vestibular neuronitis the vertigo usually lasts for a much longer time (hours, days or even weeks). There is no sensation of ear pain or hearing loss but it can be very disabling. This is thought to be caused by viruses attacking the inner ear and is treatable with medication.
Acute Labyrinthitis: Unlike Benign Positional Vertigo and Vestibular Neuronitis, Labyrinthitis is a serious condition that requires urgent treatment to prevent permanent hearing loss or imbalance. The vertigo may be accompanied by ear pain, drainage and hearing loss in one ear. Labyrinthitis may be caused by a bacterial or viral inner ear infection and the sooner treatment is started, the more likely a successful outcome without permanent hearing loss.
Meniere’s Disease: Meniere’s disease is an ear disorder thought to be caused by an abnormal buildup of fluid in the inner ear. It may occur in one or both ears. An attack of Meniere’s disease will usually be associated with a sense of fullness in the affected ear, noises in that ear called tinnitus and hearing loss in the same ear. The spinning usually lasts hours and the hearing loss usually improves after the attack. With Meniere’s disease these attacks may come repeatedly in clusters. There are various dietary restrictions, medicines and office procedures to help control the attacks.
Inner Ear Infections: A prolonged bout of vertigo may occur with a viral infection of the inner ear called vestibular neuronitis. You may also experience nausea and vomiting in this case. It may last for days or weeks. Certain anti dizziness medicines may help with the symptoms until the infection clears.
Other Causes of Vertigo: Migraines may cause vertigo also. The attacks may or may not be associated with typical migraine headaches. Head trauma, brain tumors and some medications may cause vertigo as well.
As with any disease the treatment of vertigo is dependent on defining the cause. An ear, nose and throat doctor will be able to help determine the cause and treatment. A physical exam of the ear, hearing testing and inner ear tests and lab work along with a description (history) of the attack(s) will usually give the correct diagnosis and lead to proper treatment.
At Advanced Specialty Care, our ENT Specialists and Audiologists work together to provide comprehensive care for conditions of the ear and hearing loss including diagnosing and treating vertigo and dizziness. Appointments are available in our Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield, CT offices.