If you experience a feeling of being off balance or that the world is spinning, you may have a condition of the inner ear called vertigo, and many patients ask, “Can vertigo be cured?”
First, it’s important to know this condition is different from occasional dizziness from low blood sugar or standing up too quickly as vertigo can be debilitating and interfere with your day-to-day activities. Women’s Health Magazine says about 40% of the population will experience clinically diagnosed vertigo at least once in their lifetimes. Brittany C. Dobson, M.D., an otolaryngologist at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates, says, “One of the things we hear from patients all the time is that they are suffering from vertigo. What they truly mean is that they are suffering from dizziness or feeling off balance.”
One study suggested 90 million Americans experience dizziness, with the symptom occurring most frequently in those over the age of 75 years old.
Vertigo can make you feel very ill and it can be dangerous, causing a fall that could injure you. What causes this condition and how can it be treated?
What Causes Vertigo?
Vertigo is a condition of the inner ear that causes you to see motion where there is none. The signals from your eyes and inner ear are getting mixed up so then your brain will experience vertigo. This can lead to nausea, vomiting, and even difficulty walking.
Dr. Dobson says, “From an ENT standpoint, vertigo tends to mean almost hallucination, where the world is spinning or the room is moving around you.”
Some of the most common causes of vertigo include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, causes tiny calcium particles to clump in the inner ear disrupting the signals to your brain
- Meniere’s disease is an inner ear illness caused by changing ear pressures or the buildup of fluids
- Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis is a viral infection that inflames the inner ear around the nerves that help the body balance
Dr. Dobson agrees that vertigo “can be related to things such as benign positional paroxysmal vertigo, when you have loose crystals in your ear and they can make you spin for a few seconds, or, it can go into Meniere’s disease, when you have hearing loss, ringing, or a roaring sensation, and the room is spinning for 20 minutes at a time.” However, the good news about these disorders, Dr. Dobson reports, “Both of which we can actually help you with.”
It’s less common, but vertigo could also be tied to a head or neck injury, stroke, or other brain problem, migraine headaches, or even medications that end up damaging the ear.
What Are the Symptoms of Vertigo?
If you have vertigo, there’s no mistaking it. It often flares up when you change the position of your head. Patients with vertigo symptoms experience:
- Being pulled in one direction
- The room spinning
- The horizon swaying
- Tilting of the room
- Unbalanced and unable to walk
These symptoms cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, sweating, and even abnormal eye movements or ringing in the ear. Balance and the ability to walk is almost always affected, making this a dangerous condition, particularly for the elderly. No matter the cause of vertigo, there are treatments available that can help.
How Can Vertigo Be Cured?
Clinicians are often adverse to using the term “cured”, but vertigo can be effectively managed and treated.
A diagnosis of vertigo comes from a visit to an otolaryngologist like Dr. Dobson, who is skilled at treating conditions affecting the delicate structures of the sinuses and inner ears. She states, “We can do all kinds of testing and figure out exactly where you’re having trouble, and help improve your life.”
Eliminating vertigo starts by diagnosing the underlying cause of the condition, then formulating a treatment plan with your doctor. Vertigo seems to be more common in people over the age of 50, but anyone can get the viral infection known as labyrinthitis.
Vertigo can go away on its own, as your brain adapts to the changes in your inner ear. Other times, treatment is needed, which could include:
- Canalith repositioning maneuvers are a specific series of exercises to treat BPPV by moving the calcium deposits out of the inner ear to be reabsorbed by the body
- Medication can help with the nausea and motion sickness almost always associated with vertigo
- Meniere’s disease is most often treated with diuretics, or water pills to drain the pressure from the fluid buildup
- Surgery in a few cases can be necessary to alleviate the problem
- Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis viral infections can be treated with antibiotics or steroids to reduce the inflammation
- Vestibular rehabilitation, which is a form of physical therapy that strengthens the vestibular system to improve the signals your inner ear is sending to the brain
If there is another underlying health problem causing the vertigo, your doctor will seek to alleviate that while lessening vertigo symptoms.
Dr. Dobson shares, “For things like vertigo or BPPV, we have a great vestibular therapy department called FYZICAL, that can help reposition those crystals for you, and fix that problem.”
- One in four Americans aged 65 and older falls every year
- Every 11 seconds an older adult is treated in the ER for a fall
- Every 19 seconds an older adult dies from a fall
- Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury in the elderly
These are all reasons to seek help if you’re experiencing vertigo. Dr. Dobson says, “For patients who are more off balance or having trouble with equilibrium or having troubles with falls, we can help with that, too.”
Vestibular rehabilitation therapy as a stand-alone treatment or when combined with other therapies to treat vertigo, are very effective ways to improve mobility, balance, and help you get back to your full range of activities.