Wrapping Your Head Around Dizziness and Vertigo

I get lightheaded when I get up from lying down. The world spins when I roll over in bed or reach for the top cupboard. I have difficulty focusing when I drive at night or in the rain. If any of these things sound familiar, then you or someone you might know could be experiencing a form of vestibular dysfunction. You are not alone because recent studies have shown that over 1/3 of North Americans over the age of 40 suffer from some type of vestibular dysfunction. This number skyrockets to over 80% for those over the age of 65. The unfortunate reality is that for something so common it rarely gets assessed or treated by health professionals.

So what does vestibular actually mean?

Your vestibular system is the part of your inner ear that is responsible for maintaining your balance and telling your brain where your body is in space. It’s a complex apparatus made up of 5 sensory organs that detect body movements in all directions. It works together with your visual system and many parts of your brain to allow you to make all of the intricate movements needed on a daily basis. Dysfunction of the vestibular system can happen in numerous ways, resulting in dizziness, loss of balance and difficulty with tasks that require coordination.

Is it dizziness or vertigo?

Dizziness and vertigo are often considered to be the same thing, but vertigo is a specific form of dizziness in which a person feels as though the room is spinning or tilting around them. The most common type of vertigo is BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo). BPPV is due to a problem with the semicircular canals, one of the 5 sensory organs of the inner ear. Crystals that are designed to help detect head movements become dislodged and travel to the wrong parts of the canals. People with BPPV usually experience vertigo from simple head movements such as looking up or turning the head because these crystals are stimulating the wrong nerves. Typically the spinning only lasts a few seconds to a couple of minutes and subsides relatively quickly. Other forms of dizziness can arise from head trauma due to motor vehicle accidents or sporting injuries, or from infections that affect the nerves of the inner ear. It’s always important to have a skilled medical professional examine the cause of dizziness in order to provide the safest and most appropriate treatment for each individual.

How can you stop dizziness?

The good news is that there are numerous ways to help manage most forms of dizziness. Vestibular rehabilitation is a form of therapy that aims to help restore proper working order of the vestibular system. A trained health professional will assess which parts of the system aren’t working properly and will focus on getting the function back to those areas using manual therapy. There are various maneuvers that can be performed to relocate the crystals in BPPV patients, depending on which canal is involved. Other vestibular dysfunctions involve treatment of the visual system and balance exercises in order to change signals within the vestibular system.

The Final Word

Dizziness is probably one of the most undertreated health problems, so if you or a loved one is suffering, you shouldn't wait to get it examined. Fortunately, people experiencing many types of vestibular dysfunction, such as BPPV, can find great relief in only a few treatments of vestibular rehabilitation.

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