People who suffer from vertigo may experience sensations that the world is rocking, rotating and spinning around them — even when they are standing perfectly still. It’s like experiencing seasickness on dry land.
To put it into perspective for those who have not suffered from vertigo in the past, it’s like standing on the ground after getting off a merry-go-round or an amusement park tilt-a-whirl that’s been spinning very fast. The difference, though, is that the childhood experience with vertigo diminishes rapidly and dissipates very quickly. Adults who experience vertigo may experience this sensation for several hours or even days or weeks before it goes away.
What is Vertigo?
Ultimately, vertigo is the name for a sensation of spinning and dizziness. It’s etomology ties back to the Latin word “vertere”, meaning “whirling” or “to turn”.
This sensation, while often described as the feeling one gets when looking down from great heights, is not the same thing as a fear of heights. Instead, vertigo applies to temporary or persistent spells of dizziness often caused by problems in the inner ear or the brain.
Persistent vertigo, or vertigo with symptoms that do not diminish over time, can impact the daily lives of people suffering from the condition. It can also lead to secondary mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Signs of Vertigo
For many people, the first signs of vertigo involve a strong wave of nausea as the earth feels as though it is spinning right beneath their feet. It’s not something that many people feel coming on. It isn’t there. Then, suddenly it is.
Some people experience intermittent or episodic vertigo. With this condition, the symptoms are typically brief and go away for a while before returning. Other’s experience persistent vertigo.
While there are times when the symptoms are worse than others, the symptoms may affect your ability to work and participate in normal life events.
Symptoms of Vertigo
While every person suffering from vertigo is unique, there are some vertigo symptoms that are consistent among most people who have the condition.
Among these consistencies are the following:
Difficulties with balance.
Feeling like you’re being pulled in one direction.
Abnormal eye movement.
Sensitivity to light and noise.
Shortness of breath.
Seeing double and having difficulty speaking or swallowing.
Sensations of motion or sea sickness.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus may present as clicking, hissing, or whistling sounds as well.
Fullness in the ear.
You may have just one of these symptoms or many. While vertigo may involve people feeling faint, the dizziness associated with it is more rotational (much like the merry-go-round or tilt-a-whirl sensations described above) in nature.
For this reason, it is always advisable to visit your Houston ear, nose, and throat doctor to find out what may be behind sensations of vertigo if you are someone you love is experiencing these types of symptoms.
Some vertigo symptoms may come and go. Some may last seconds while others may last hours, days, or indefinitely. You may even notice the some of the symptoms worsen whenever you move your head or change positions. When you do, seek treatment for your symptoms of vertigo, make sure you discuss the frequency and duration of symptoms.
If you experience the following symptoms in combination with symptoms of vertigo, you should seek help right away:
Trouble hearing and/or speaking.
Temperatures above 100 degrees.
Tingling or numbness.
Weakness in an arm or leg.
You are unable to walk without help.
You cannot stop vomiting.
You should also seek immediate help if you are an older adult, have a history of stroke, or have high blood pressure, diabetes or smoke (risk factors for stroke).
Causes of Vertigo
There are many potential causes of vertigo. While often dismissed as an inner ear condition, many other conditions might lead to symptoms of vertigo including these:
Acoustic neuromas. Noncancerous tumors the grow along the nerve connecting the brain and the ear.
Allergies.Seasonal allergy-related sinus congestion can lead to both dizziness and vertigo.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Caused by collections of calcium in the ear, BPPV is often brief, lasting only minutes, and typically triggered by moving the head.
Brain issues. May be caused by a variety of brain problems, including stroke and transient ischemic attack, or TIA, bleeding in the brain, and multiple sclerosis.
Carcinoid syndrome. With this condition, a dangerous carcinoid tumor allows dangerous chemicals to seep back into your bloodstream.
Cholesteatoma. Skin growth in the middle ear resulting from repeated infections that may result in damage to the ear such as dizziness and hearing loss.
Colds or flu. Some people experience dizziness when they catch a cold or develop the flu.
Dehydration. If you’re not drinking enough fluids, especially when exercising or in warmer climates, like Houston in the spring, summer, and fall, then you could develop vertigo.
Head injuries. This is a common source of vertigo and you should inform your doctor if you begin experiencing symptoms of vertigo after a blow to the head or any type of head injury.
Labyrinthitis. Represents anInner ear disorder in which the nerve that detects head movement is inflamed.
Medications. Sometimes medications affect the function of the inner ear or brain causing sensations of vertigo. Some medications, though rare, can actually damage the inner ear.
Meniere disease. People with Meniere disease usually experienced repeated episodes of vertigo that include other symptoms like ringing ears and hearing loss. It is often caused by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear.
Migraines. Most commonly associated with headaches, not all patients experiencing migraine-induced vertigo will experience headaches.
Post-concussion syndrome. If you’ve had a recent concussion, vertigo could become a lingering and persistent companion as you recover from your concussion or another mild form of traumatic brain injury.
Vertebrobasilar circulatory disorders. These conditions refer to a group of diseases that do not allow adequate flow of blood to the back of the brain and constitutes a medical emergency.
Vestibular Neuronitis. Believed to be inflammation of the vestibular nerve caused by viral infections.
Because there are so many potential causes of vertigo and the above list isn't exhaustive, it is important to work with your ear, nose, and throat doctor to determine the direct cause of your vertigo and to identify the best possible treatment for your unique situation, condition and mitigating factors.
Treatment Options for Vertigo
For the most part, there aren’t specific treatments options for vertigo itself. If you have persistent vertigo that interferes with your quality of life or ability to work and function, your doctor may prescribe anti-nausea medications, antihistamines, or even sedatives to help you cope with the symptoms of vertigo.
In other circumstances, people have tried a variety of home remedies with varying degrees of success. These include things like exercises, herbal remedies, and lifestyle changes.
When vertigo is caused by other underlying conditions, treating the conditions causing the symptoms is often the most prudent course of action. This may involve things like vestibular rehabilitation, balance rehabilitation, and, in some cases, surgery.
In the instance of conditions like Meniere’s disease, your doctor may prescribe diuretics to relieve pressure in the ear caused by a buildup of fluid in the inner ear. When tumors are involved, physicians may need to remove the tumor in order to alleviate vertigo symptoms.
Vertigo is a condition that offers a wide range of potential causes and solutions. Working with your physician is the only way to determine the best possible course of action and treatment for your unique condition, lifestyle, and treatment needs. Contact your ear, nose, and throat doctor today to address your vertigo symptoms and the steps you need to take to find relief.
If you are experiencing vertigo, give us a call here at Houston ENT & Allergy at 281-623-1312 or request an appointment for an evaluation.
Mark Lynn Nichols, M.D., received his Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in Pharmacy in 1983, prior to his entering the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, Texas, where he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine with Highest Honors. Following his Internship in General Surgery, and Residency in Otolaryngology at UTMB, Dr. Nichols did a Fellowship in Otology-Neurology at the Ear Research Foundation, in Sarasota, Florida.
He is a member of several professional associations, and is a Diplomat of the American Board of Otolaryngology.