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Vertigo. What Is It, and How Is It Treated?

Vertigo. What Is It, and How Is It Treated?

Vertigo is a type of dizziness. It isn’t a disease or health condition on its own but a symptom of a wide variety of conditions.

Knowing what vertigo is and how it feels can help you determine whether you may need to see a doctor. Here’s more about vertigo and its treatments and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center if you want to learn the root cause of this symptom.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a sensation that makes you feel as though the world around you is spinning in circles, even though you are standing or sitting still. It can make you feel dizzy, nauseated, and off balance.

There are two main types of vertigo: peripheral vertigo and central vertigo.

Peripheral vertigo is the most common type of vertigo. It occurs when there is a problem with the inner ear. Meniere's disease and labyrinthitis are some conditions that may cause peripheral vertigo.

Central vertigo occurs when there is a problem with the brain. Stroke, migraine, and brain tumors are examples of brain conditions that may cause central vertigo.

How Common Is Vertigo?

An estimated 40% of adults in the U.S. will experience vertigo at least once in their lifetime, reports the University of California San Francisco. It adds that women are slightly more likely to experience vertigo than men.

In another study published in a 2016 issue of the Handbook of Clinical Neurology, researchers reported that dizziness including vertigo affects about 15% to 20% of adults every year.

If your vertigo is severe or it affects you frequently, you may want to consider seeing a doctor. A doctor can review your medical history and talk to you in more detail about your symptoms.

What Does Vertigo Feel Like?

Vertigo produces a feeling similar to that of motion sickness. You may feel as though you are spinning, tilting, rocking, or swaying. You may feel completely off balance or like you are being pulled in one direction.

Feelings associated with vertigo may worsen when you try to walk or move your head. If you stand up or walk with vertigo, you may feel as if you might fall down.

An episode of vertigo can last anywhere between a few seconds to several minutes. However, severe cases of vertigo may last much longer, such as for hours, days, or weeks.

What Are the Symptoms Of Vertigo?

Vertigo itself is a symptom of many different health conditions. It may occur at the same time as other symptoms, depending on its root cause.

Symptoms you may experience with vertigo include:

  • Motion sickness.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Problems with balance.
  • Headaches.
  • Sweating.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
  • Hearing loss.
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear.
  • Nystagmus (when your eyes move side to side and you cannot control it).

What Causes Vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by any one of several conditions that produce this symptom. The most common cause of vertigo is a problem with the inner ear.

An inner ear disorder can cause communication problems between the inner ear and your brain. It can lead to inconsistencies in the way your eyes and sensory nerves perceive the world around you. Vertigo occurs when your brain is trying to understand or sort out these inconsistencies.

Conditions that may cause vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV occurs when tiny calcium deposits get trapped in an area of your vestibular system. The vestibular system plays a role in your sense of balance. Those tiny calcium deposits—known as otoliths—can trigger vertigo when they get stuck. BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo.
  • Meniere’s disease. This condition occurs when fluids build up inside the inner ear. Other symptoms of Meniere’s disease are tinnitus and a feeling of fullness in the ear. It can lead to long episodes of vertigo that last for several hours.
  • Labyrinthitis. This condition is inflammation or infection of the inner ear labyrinth. In addition to vertigo, it may cause symptoms including headaches, ear pain, vision changes, and hearing loss.
  • Vestibular neuritis. This condition is inflammation of the vestibular nerve. The vestibular nerve is located in the semicircular canals in the ear that make up the vestibular system. Vertigo caused by this condition may also be accompanied by blurred vision and nausea.

Other potential causes of vertigo include:

  • Head injuries.
  • Migraine.
  • Stroke.
  • Certain medications, including antidepressants and cardiovascular drugs.
  • Diabetes.
  • Brain tumor.
  • Multiple sclerosis.
  • Pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.
  • Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs).
  • Perilymphatic fistula (when inner ear fluid leaks into the middle ear).
  • Ataxia (muscle weakness).
  • Ear surgery.
  • Hyperventilation.
  • Heart arrhythmias.
  • Orthostatic hypotension (a sudden drop in blood pressure when you stand up).
  • Psychiatric problems, such as panic attacks and anxiety.
  • Stress.
  • Shingles in or near the ear.
  • Syphilis.
  • Alcohol use.
  • COVID-19.

Is Vertigo the Same As Dizziness?

Vertigo and dizziness are both symptoms associated with balance problems. However, they are not one and the same. Dizziness is a blanket term for a range of sensations that affect your balance. Dizziness may cause you to feel weak, uncoordinated, or lightheaded.

Vertigo, on the other hand, specifically refers to the sensation of feeling like everything around you is spinning.

How Is Vertigo Diagnosed?

During your appointment to address vertigo, your doctor will first review your medical history to identify possible causes of this symptom, such as diabetes or BPPV. Your doctor may also ask about any other symptoms you are experiencing to narrow possible causes.

A series of diagnostic tests may be performed to confirm or rule out conditions linked to vertigo. Diagnostic tests for vertigo may include:

  • MRI.
  • CT scan.
  • Fukuda-Unterberger’s test. This test requires you to stand and march in place with your eyes closed for 30 seconds. It can help identify problems with the inner ear labyrinth.
  • Romberg’s test. This test requires you to stand with your feet together and close your eyes. It can help identify problems with your central nervous system.
  • Head impulse test. This test requires you to focus on a stationary object while your doctor moves your head from side to side. It can help your doctor evaluate how well the inner ear balance system works to control eye movement.
  • Vestibular test battery. During this test, you will wear eye goggles that allow your doctor to monitor eye movements and identify problems with the inner ear.

Your doctor can talk to you in greater detail about how these diagnostic tests work and which ones you may need based on your symptoms.

What Are Treatments For Vertigo?

The type of treatments you may receive for vertigo depends mainly on the root cause of this symptom. For example, if a certain medication is causing you to experience vertigo regularly, your doctor may prescribe another type of medication that doesn’t cause vertigo.

Potential vertigo treatments include:

  • Vestibular rehabilitation. This treatment may help if your vertigo is being caused by a problem with the inner ear. Vestibular rehabilitation is a type of physical therapy that strengthens all your other senses. It can help reduce the severity of your vertigo.
  • Canalith repositioning procedure (CRP). This treatment is usually only used if you have BPPV. CRP helps move the calcium deposits into another inner ear chamber where they can be absorbed by your body.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be performed when vertigo is caused by a serious underlying issue, such as a brain tumor.
  • Medication. This treatment may be used to address underlying problems causing vertigo. For example, if your vertigo is being caused by a bacterial infection like syphilis, you may be prescribed antibiotics to overcome the infection and stop vertigo. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to reduce other symptoms that accompany your vertigo, such as headache or nausea.

No research or evidence is showing that natural treatments can specifically help with vertigo. However, some essential oils—such as lavender oil—may help reduce nausea and dizziness that accompanies vertigo, according to a study published in a 2016 issue of Pain Research and Treatment.

Your doctor can discuss all your available treatment options and guide you toward the best treatment based on your symptoms and condition.

When To Contact a Doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if your episodes of vertigo are frequent, severe, and/or unusually long. You should also see your doctor if vertigo episodes are affecting your quality of life and your ability to do normal activities.

Vertigo may be treated by an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor—also known as an otolaryngologist, or by a neurologist. Your primary care doctor may give you a referral to one of these medical specialists based on your other symptoms and the underlying condition causing vertigo.

Healthcare Services At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

If you are suffering from vertigo, our doctors at Lompoc Valley Medical Center can help you identify its root cause and provide the treatments you need to start feeling better. We have medical specialists on hand—including ENT doctors—who are trained to diagnose conditions that may be causing vertigo. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment, and to learn more about our many other healthcare services and departments.