Dizziness, a blanket term used to describe any feeling of spinning and/or instability, is one of the leading health complaints in the United States and affects an estimated nine million people annually. For those over the age of 70, it’s the top reason for a visit to the doctor’s office.
What Are the Causes of Dizziness?
Potential causes of dizziness are vast and can include inner ear disorders, low blood pressure, anemia, dehydration, heat-related disorders, endocrine system disorders (e.g., diabetes, thyroid disease), heart conditions, high blood pressure, viral and bacterial infection, head trauma, hyperventilation, neurological disorders and certain medications. Several inner ear disorders that are commonly associated with dizziness and/or vertigo include the following:
- Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) involves brief, but intense, periods of vertigo that are provoked by changes in head position. BPPV the result of tiny crystals in the otolith organs that become dislodged and migrate to one of the semicircular canals.
- Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition that causes vertigo, tinnitus, fullness in the ear and fluctuating hearing loss that may eventually become permanent. Meniere’s is usually specific to one ear, and though its cause is unknown, it may be the result of abnormal fluid buildup in the inner ear.
- Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear usually caused by an infection. It’s symptoms include vertigo, temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.
What Other Symptoms Are Associated with Dizziness?
Patients who experience dizziness report a variety of symptoms depending on the exact nature of their balance disorder. These include:
- Vertigo (the sensation of movement in your surroundings)
- Blurred vision
Superior Semi-Circular Canal Dehiscence Syndrome (SSCD)
Superior Semi-Circular Canal Dehiscence Syndrome (SSCD) is a rare medical condition described as a thinning or complete absence of a portion of the temporal bone overlying the superior semicircular canal of the inner ear. This causes a hypersensitivity to sound and balance disorders.
Symptoms can include vertigo that is provoked by loud sounds, dizziness that is exacerbated with activity, hearing loss, tinnitus and aural fullness.
Treatment can include surgery to repair the affected semi-circular canal.
Vestibular Neuritis and Labrynthitis
Both vestibular neuritis and labyrinthitis are the result of inflammation of the vestibular nerve. Dizziness results because the affected vestibular nerve does not provide input to the brain that is equal to that from the nerve on the unaffected side. The result is vertigo that may be accompanied by nausea. When one has labyrinthitis, symptoms include sudden hearing loss. Initial symptoms often present as a sudden onset of severe vertigo and/or hearing loss accompanied by nausea and vomiting that can last hours or days. Vestibular Migraines
Contrary to what one might think, vestibular migraines don’t always cause headaches. The primary symptom of vestibular migraine is intermittent dizziness.
Vestibular refers to the inner ear, which controls hearing and balance. Dizziness associated with a vestibular migraine lasts more than a few minutes and can be accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to sound, movement, and light. Feeling disoriented is also common with vestibular migraine. Like traditional migraines, vestibular migraines can affect people of all ages. However, they are more common in women than men, and most often begin around 40 years of age.
What is Vertigo?
Vertigo is a symptom of dizziness characterized by the sensation that you or the environment around is moving or spinning. What Are the Types of Vertigo?
Peripheral vertigo is associated with disorders of the inner ear. The vestibular system sends signals to the brain about the position of the head in space, which enables us to keep our balance and maintain equilibrium. When these signals are disrupted, or imbalanced from ear to ear, vertigo can result.
Central vertigo occurs when there is a disruption of the interaction in the brain between the visual and balance systems. A common cause of central vertigo is a migraine headache.
How Are Dizziness and Vertigo Treated?
Treatment for dizziness is determined by the cause. Using a thorough case history and diagnostic testing, the doctor and audiologist will try to identify the cause of dizziness so appropriate treatment can be initiated. Treatment for vertigo can include medications (antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics, steroids), physical or occupational therapy, repositioning exercises, and lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and elimination of alcohol and nicotine. In rare instances there may be a surgical treatment for vertigo.