What is vertigo and what can you do about it?

(Photo: Pexels)
(Photo: Pexels)

If you experience vertigo, the sensation that you or your surroundings are moving and spinning, you may have a problem with the part of your inner ear that maintains balance.

Vertigo is a symptom of an underlying medical condition and not an ailment in itself. Neither is it associated with a fear of heights – the medical term for the dizziness experienced while looking down from a height is acrophobia.

The causes of peripheral vertigo, which is the most common type, involve the inner ear and include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

  • Labyrinthitis

  • Vestibular neuronitis

  • Ménière’s disease – severe vertigo can be caused by this rare condition

BPPV is a common cause of vertigo

In this condition, calcium carbonate particles break off from the lining of the inner ear and enter its canals. Sudden head movements can cause these particles to move in the fluid in the canal, which can produce a spinning sensation or vertigo.

BPPV usually affects individuals over the age of 50 and can develop after an ear infection, ear surgery, a head injury, and prolonged bed rest. In addition to vertigo, sufferers of BPPV may experience loss of balance, nausea and vomiting, headache, jerky eye movements, sweating, ringing in the ears, and hearing loss. BPPV symptoms may vary in duration from a few minutes to a few hours.

(Photo: Pexels)
(Photo: Pexels)

How is vertigo diagnosed and treated?

Consult your GP if you experience sudden, severe, prolonged or frequent bouts of vertigo. Your GP is likely to carry out a physical examination and may advise further tests.

Treatment depends on the cause of the vertigo and its severity. Physiotherapy exercises such as vestibular rehabilitation training (VRT) may be prescribed for the treatment of labyrinthitis-associated vertigo while the Epley manoeuvre can help with BPPV. Vertigo associated with vestibular neuronitis, usually caused by a viral infection, may improve on its own with rest.

You will need emergency medical treatment if your vertigo is accompanied by severe headache, fever, loss of vision, difficulty with speech, difficulty walking, and weakness in the legs and arms.

Self-care for mild vertigo

  • Elevate your head by sleeping on two or more pillows

  • Get out of bed slowly and stay in a sitting position for a minute before standing up

  • Avoid bending down

  • Avoid looking upwards and stretching your neck

  • Avoid sudden head movements; move your head slowly instead

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