Vertigo is probably a term you have heard of before. However, many people are not sure what it really is. Is it dizziness? Is it a fear of heights? What causes it? Is it anything to be concerned about? What can help? All of these questions will be answered in this article.
Vertigo is the sensation that you or the things in the environment around you are moving or spinning. It is a type of dizziness, but it is not simply dizziness. When you suffer from vertigo, you have the illusion of movement when you are not moving. If you feel like you are moving, it is referred to as subjective vertigo. If you feel like the things around you are moving, it is called objective vertigo. Vertigo is also not the fear of heights, as was indicated by a popular movie a few decades ago. Fear of heights is called acrophobia and has nothing to do with vertigo.
Causes of Vertigo
There are a few reasons why vertigo occurs. It can be due to a problem in the brain or the central nervous system (central vertigo). It may also be due to an inner ear issue (peripheral vertigo). Vertigo is not a condition, but rather a symptom of another condition. It is not contagious. The following are some common conditions having vertigo as one of their main symptoms:
- Labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis: This is inflammation of the inner ear which is characterized by the sudden onset of vertigo and possible hearing loss. Most commonly, this is due to a viral or bacterial ear infection. It can last for days until the inflammation goes away. Viruses responsible for this kind of inflammation are measles, rubella, influenza, herpes, hepatitis, mumps, polio, and Epstein-Barr virus.
- BPPV or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: The most common form of vertigo, BPPV is known for a brief sensation of movement lasting about 15 seconds to a few minutes, called a sudden vertigo attack. Head movements may bring it on or certain actions such as rolling over in bed. It is caused by misplaced crystals in the inner ear. It is rarely serious and can be cared for by using such things as the Epley maneuver.
- Acoustic neuroma: A rare cause of vertigo, this is related to a kind of tumor located in the inner ear and affecting the nerve tissue. You may experience vertigo, hearing loss, and ringing in one ear.
- Meniere’s disease: This is a condition with a triad of symptoms including vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and hearing loss. An abrupt onset of vertigo is often followed by hearing loss. These symptoms are intermittent, often leaving the person with a long period that is symptom-free. While Meniere’s is not fully understood, it is likely due to a viral infection of the inner ear, a head injury, allergies, or a genetic component.
Some other reasons vertigo may occur are listed below:
- Decreased blood flow to the brain
- Multiple sclerosis
- Head and neck trauma
- Changes in hormones
- Low blood sugar
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Car sickness (Mal de Debarquement)
Symptoms of Vertigo
When you have vertigo, you may have other symptoms as well:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal eye movements
- Hearing loss
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Visual disturbances
- Problems speaking
- Impaired consciousness
- Problems walking
When to Seek Medical Care for Vertigo
Vertigo is rarely dangerous. However, there are some times when you should seek the care of a doctor. If you experience any of the following, you should see your doctor immediately:
- Double vision
- Sudden onset of symptoms
- Problems with speech
- Nystagmus (abnormal eye movements)
- Problems walking
- Lack of coordination
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Altered consciousness
- Problems waking up
- Not acting like yourself
The Balance System and Vertigo
Balance is the body’s ability to maintain its center of mass over its base of support. If your balance system is working properly, you can see clearly when moving, determine what direction you are going in and at what speed, and make automatic postural adjustments to keep your stability.
Balance comes about due to a complicated set of sensorimotor control systems including input from the eyes, touch, and movement. This is then processed and motor output to the eyes and body muscles occurs. If one of these systems is altered due to an injury, the aging process, or a disease, your balance system no longer functions properly, and you may experience vertigo.
Finding Help for Vertigo
If one of the bones of the upper cervical spine becomes misaligned, it can put pressure on the brainstem This may be one reason for the onset of vertigo. The brainstem is the communication highway of the body. It relays messages to and from the brain and body. If one of the bones located near the brainstem, the C1 or C2 vertebra, move out of place, they can put the brainstem under stress, causing it to send the wrong signals to the brain. If the brainstem tells the brain that the body is in motion when it is not in motion, vertigo may be the end result.
Upper cervical chiropractors are specially trained to find these tiny misalignments and encourage the bones to move back into place. We are not required to pop or crack the neck or back to achieve the desired results. Rather, the method used is gentle and low-force. It does not add further stress to the body. Once the bones are realigned, many patients report seeing a huge improvement in their symptoms of vertigo. Some see it go away and not return.