Vertigo: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Deepanshu Bedi


Do you often feel dizzy or lightheaded? Does it feel like your head is spinning? Do you have issues with your ears? If the answer to these questions is yes, you might suffer vertigo. Vertigo is a sensation that the world around you is going in circles.

This condition can make you feel off-balanced and dizzy. On the other hand, vertigo isn’t age specific. Anyone can develop vertigo at any time, but it is prevalent in people above 65.

Vertigo can be a short-term or chronic problem for some people. It’s a common symptom of an ear infection and can also happen during pregnancy. When the inner ear is affected, patients might also experience vertigo, as with Meniere’s disease.

What is vertigo? Does vertigo produce symptoms? Can doctors diagnose vertigo? Can vertigo be treated? Keep reading this article to learn more about this condition.

What Is Vertigo?

Do you ever feel like you and the world around you are spinning in circles? This is how vertigo feels. Experiencing vertigo is similar to having a feeling of spinning dizziness.

Yes, you may experience spinning dizziness when you look down from a great height, but that isn’t vertigo. “Vertigo” is commonly used to describe dizziness episodes caused by brain or inner ear problems.

These vertigo episodes may come and go (temporary spells) or last for a while (long-term spells). On a different note, vertigo isn’t a disease but a symptom of varying disorders.

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Types Of Vertigo

Vertigo can be divided into two main types, each with its unique causes: They include:

  • Peripheral Vertigo

80% percent of all reported vertigo cases are peripheral vertigo. Peripheral vertigo occurs as a result of inner ear disorders. Our inner ears are made up of tiny organs that respond to the body’s position and gravity.

They inform the brain about the body’s position and gravity by sending nerve signals to the brain. This process enables the body to maintain its balance when you stand up. However, when these nerve signals are disrupted, the body experiences spinning dizziness and loses balance.

Different disorders may produce vertigo, but the most common are inflammation, BPPV, acoustic neuroma, and Meniere’s disease.

  • Central Vertigo

Central vertigo occurs when problems with the central nervous system (CNS) are the cause of dizziness. The body may produce central vertigo when something goes wrong in your cerebellum or brain stem.

Approximately 20% of vertigo cases are central vertigo. Possible causes of central vertigo include demyelination, vestibular, and tumors affecting the CNS region.

Symptoms Of Vertigo

Certain head movements often trigger vertigo symptoms. Most people with vertigo report experiencing tilting, swaying, spinning, and unbalanced sensations.

Severe vertigo episodes are often accompanied by other symptoms like vomiting, headache, sweating, severe nausea, and involuntary eye movements.

Vertigo symptoms may come and go anytime, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several hours or longer.

Causes Of Vertigo

Vertigo episodes mainly occur when there are issues with the inner ear. However, several syndromes or disorders can cause you to experience spinning dizziness. Conditions that cause vertigo episodes include:

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV occurs when calcium particles (canaliths) dislodge from their usual location and accumulate in the inner ear, causing spinning sensations. This condition is usually triggered by certain unusual head positions, such as tipping the head down or up.

BPPV produces symptoms like nausea, unsteadiness, spinning sensation (vertigo), and motion sickness. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is rarely severe unless it increases your risk of falling.

Treating benign positional vertigo includes a series of head movements that cause the canaliths to dislodge from the inner ear.

  • Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis occurs when the inner ear labyrinth suffers from infection or inflammation. The vestibulocochlear nerve is located in the ear’s labyrinth, which sends signals to the brain regarding head position, movement, and sound.

People suffering from labyrinthitis usually experience severe headaches, ear pain, vertigo, hearing loss, blurred vision, and other symptoms.

  • Vestibular Neuritis

Dizziness and balance disorders are common symptoms among those with vestibular neuritis. Vestibular neuritis occurs when there’s an inflammation of the vestibular nerve.

This condition shares similar symptoms with labyrinthitis but doesn’t affect your hearing. Vestibular neuritis patients usually experience vestibular migraine, nausea, and blurry vision.

  • Meniere’s Disease

The term “Meniere’s disease” refers to a condition that affects the inner ear and is thought to be caused by changing pressure and fluid buildup inside the ear. This condition usually causes severe vertigo episodes, nausea, hearing loss, and tinnitus.

  • Cholesteatoma

Recurrent and chronic ear infections can cause noncancerous skin to form in the middle of the ear. This ear disorder is known as cholesteatoma. A cholesteatoma usually leads to headaches, balance problems, and hearing loss.

What Other Conditions Trigger Vertigo?

Other conditions or syndromes that can cause vertigo episodes include:

  • Arrhythmia
  • Certain medications.
  • Stroke.
  • Diabetes.
  • Head injury
  • Neck injury
  • Ear surgery
  • Shingles
  • Otosclerosis
  • Perilymphatic fistula
  • Syphilis
  • Brain disease.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Vertigo In Pregnancy

Dizziness and nausea are common problems during pregnancy. Apparently, changes in hormone levels have a role, as these changes affect the properties of body fluids, which in turn cause blood vessels to dilate and relax.

These hormonal changes increase blood circulation to the baby throughout pregnancy. However, this also slows down the rate at which blood circulates through the veins, heart, and lungs.

This results in lower-than-normal best blood pressure supplements, which reduces blood supply to the brain, causing the mother to experience temporary dizziness. On the other hand, constant changes in hormone levels during pregnancy can affect fluid properties in the inner ear.

Changes in the inner ear’s fluid properties can cause headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, and hearing difficulties. Another cause of pregnancy-related lightheadedness is low blood sugar.

Those with anemia may be more likely to feel dizzy and lightheaded than those without. Lastly, changes in the mother’s posture and body weight can make it hard to maintain balance.

Is Vertigo Hereditary?

As mentioned earlier, vertigo itself isn’t a disease but a symptom. This means that it could be a symptom of a hereditary disease or syndrome. In summary, vertigo itself isn’t necessarily hereditary, but it could be a symptom of a hereditary disease.

For example, people with genetic conditions like familial episodic ataxia, migrainous vertigo, and bilateral vestibular hypofunction typically experience vertigo.

Genetic factors like familial episodic ataxia and familial Meniere’s disease can also cause dizziness and vertigo.

As a result, your doctor may ask about your family’s medical history if you have vertigo. On a different note, recent studies have revealed six gene variants associated with vertigo. These six genes play an important role in the inner ear’s development, maintenance, and disorders.

How Is Vertigo Diagnosed?

Most healthcare providers diagnose vertigo by performing a series of balance tests, hearing exams, imaging, and even radiographs. First, your healthcare provider will ask you a series of questions and perform a physical examination to confirm your symptoms.

Your doctor may also recommend running additional tests to confirm your diagnosis. These tests may include the following:

  • Head Impulse Test

A head impulse test involves gently moving the patient’s head to each side while they maintain focus on a fixed target. For example, your healthcare provider may ask you to focus on a clock or color on the wall.

During the test, your doctor will evaluate the balance system in your inner ear to determine how well it controls and coordinates your eye movements.

  • Vestibular Test Battery

A vestibular battery test combines several tests to diagnose an inner ear problem accurately. During this test, your doctor will place a google over your eyes to monitor your eye movement responses while following a target.

Your doctor may ask you to move your head and body while keeping your eyes on a moving target. The clinician may even put warm and cool water into your ear canal.

  • Fukuda-Unterberger’s Test

Your healthcare provider will ask you to close your eyes and march for 30 seconds. If you lean or tilt to one side, this could indicate vestibular labyrinth issues.

  • Romberg’s Test

Your doctor will ask you to shut your eyes, put your arms at your side and stand with your feet together. If you lean or tilt during the assessment, it could mean that you have CNS issues.

Treatment For Vertigo

Vertigo treatment options vary depending on the root cause of the symptom. The symptoms often fade away, and the body regains balance without treatment. This occurs because your brain has adapted successfully to the changes in your inner ear and is using other mechanisms to maintain body balance.

However, some people require medical intervention to improve symptoms and treat the disorder. Treatments for vertigo include:

  • Vestibular Rehabilitation

A vestibular rehabilitation program is a form of physical therapy that aims to strengthen and improve the vestibular system. The vestibular system is the one in charge of sending signals to the brain about the body and the head’s gravity and movements.

Your doctor may advise you to participate in vestibular rehabilitation if you suffer from frequent episodes of vertigo. The goal of this therapy is to strengthen your other senses to help you maintain balance and compensate for vertigo.

  • Canalith Repositioning Maneuvers

If BPPV is the root cause of your vertigo episodes, your doctor may recommend a series of specific head and body movements to dislodge the canaliths. These movements aim to move the canaliths out of your inner ear chamber to areas where the body can absorb them.

This procedure is safe and often effective. However, note that you will likely feel dizzy and off-balance during this procedure. Ensure you meet a professional physician or physical therapist to guide you through the movements.

  • Medicine

Addressing the underlying cause of the problem is one of the most effective ways to alleviate and treat vertigo symptoms. For example, if your vertigo results from inflammation, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs like steroids to help reduce the inflammation.

Also, if an infection is the root cause of your vertigo, your doctor may recommend antibiotics to cure the infection. For those with Meniere’s disease, your doctor may prescribe diuretics (water pills) to reduce the pressure caused by fluid buildup.

On the other hand, there are other medications your doctor may prescribe that can help alleviate your vertigo symptoms. In some cases, your physician may recommend that you take certain medications that’ll relieve you of vertigo-related motion sickness or nausea.

  • Surgery

Depending on the underlying cause, surgery may be the only option in treating vertigo. If a tumor, neck injury, or any other underlying problem is causing vertigo, treating those problems may help to alleviate vertigo symptoms.

Home Remedies For Vertigo

You can take certain home measures to resolve vertigo and alleviate symptoms. They include:

  • Lifestyle Changes

Certain steps and lifestyle changes may help you resolve vertigo and alleviate symptoms. For example, you can use a cane to walk or sit down when you feel dizzy. Plus, you can sleep with your head raised on two pillows or lie still when the dizziness is severe.

Furthermore, you can take time to perform movements that trigger vertigo symptoms. This includes turning your head, standing up, squatting, and looking up. Also, don’t use ladders or drive if you have vertigo.

  • Herbal Remedies

Consuming certain herbs may also help improve your symptoms. For example, consuming cayenne pepper may help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Turmeric is also considered an anti-inflammatory and effective pain reliever.

Other herbs for vertigo include ginger, Gongjin-dan, and Ginkgo biloba. To be clear, note that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to back up the effects of herbal remedies on vertigo. However, one clinical trial is currently ongoing to investigate the therapeutic potential of Gongjin-dan in treating vertigo.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of vertigo, it’s best to consult your doctor immediately. A healthcare provider is in the best position to advise you on addressing your symptoms and improving your health.

  • Exercises 

Certain exercises and body movements may help relieve symptoms of vertigo. Exercises for vertigo typically involve maintaining certain positions or marching in place to improve balance.

These exercises for vertigo aim to improve your balance and strengthen your ability to rely on other senses. One common exercise for vertigo is the Epley maneuver exercise for BPPV.

The Epley maneuver is a technique that can help people suffering from vertigo due to BPPV.

To Sum Up: How Bad Is Vertigo?

People with vertigo feel as though their world is going in circles. Vertigo is known to cause loss of balance, nausea, headache, dizziness, and unusual eye movements.

Multiple disorders affecting the inner ear, the brain, or the sensory nervous system can cause vertigo. Conditions like benign paroxysmal positional vertigo and labyrinthitis usually cause spinning dizziness and loss of balance.

If you have vertigo, your healthcare provider will recommend different medications and treatment options that may help alleviate your symptoms.

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