What is Vertigo?

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV or simply “vertigo”) is a relatively common condition that causes a person to feel dizzy or experience a spinning sensation when the head moves in a certain way. It is sometimes caused when calcium particles clump together in the inner ear canal, which is partially responsible for keeping us upright.

Those clumps disrupt the signals that are sent to the brain regarding our movements in relation to gravity, and we end up losing our balance. Other forms of vertigo are believed to be connected to fluid buildups in the ear and viral or bacterial infections.

Most of the time, vertigo is not dangerous unless there is concern of the patient falling in such a way that he might injure himself. Anyone can be affected by the condition, though it appears more frequently in adults and becomes a more common occurrence as a person ages.

What are the Symptoms of Vertigo?

Vertigo is generally triggered by changes in head position. When it begins, patients may experience many symptoms.

Symptoms include:

Symptoms may last anywhere from a couple of minutes to a few hours, and they can come and go without warning.

Vertigo Causes

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a type of vertigo in which sudden head movements cause dizziness. BPPV can occur as a result of a blow to the head, of damage to the inner ear due to infection or surgery, or after the head has been positioned a certain way for a long time.

The reason for this dizziness with sudden head movements is due to crystals which are found in the otolith organs in the ear, which monitor movement of the head. If the crystals become dislodged, it can force the body to become very sensitive to head movements.

IF BPPV isn’t to blame, vertigo might be caused by other things. Migraines are commonly associated with vertigo, as is labyrinthitis, a type of inner ear infection. Usually the vertigo stops after the migraine or infection is resolved.

Vestibular neuronitis is also sometimes responsible for vertigo. With this condition, there is inflammation of the vestibular nerve, the part of the body responsible for controlling balance. When the nerve is inflamed, it is unable to properly communicate messages to the brain which can cause dizziness.

Sometimes, vertigo can occur as a side effect of other medical conditions, such as MS. MS is a neurological condition which causes inflammation of nerves all over the body. If the nerves that are responsible for communicating spatial perception and response are affected, vertigo could occur.

How is Vertigo Treated?

Most cases of vertigo will go away without medical treatment. This is because the brain is at least partially able to adapt to changes in the inner ear by turning to other methods of maintaining balance.

When treatment is needed, it usually involves the Epley maneuver, which is a technique that relieves feelings of dizziness and restores balance by moving the head into four different positions. In the process, this form of physical therapy strengthens the vestibular system.

If needed, medications can help with sickness, inflammation, and fluid buildup. In rare cases, surgery may be required.

Vertigo Prevention

There isn’t necessarily any way to prevent vertigo from occurring in those who have never experienced it before, but those who have may be able to prevent future occurrences or minimize the severity or frequency of vertigo.

Getting up out of bed or from a chair should be done slowly, and bending down to pick up items should be avoided where possible. Overextending the neck or suddenly moving the head should also be avoided. Sleeping with the head raised, using two or more pillows, might also help to reduce the severity of vertigo when getting up in the morning.

Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
September 09, 2017