When someone says “I feel dizzy” what exactly do they mean? Dizziness can be described as lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or a fainting sensation. Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement.
Dizziness can occur when you move quickly from a seated or laying down position to a standing position. This positional change results in decreased blood flow and pressure to the brain; which can make you feel faint. Some common causes can be allergies, flu/cold, dehydration, rapid breathing, stress and anxiety, the use of tobacco or alcohol. Also, many prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause dizzy symptoms.
There are many different causes of vertigo. It is important to determine if the cause is central or peripheral. Central causes of vertigo occur in the brain or spinal cord whereas peripheral vertigo arises from problems in the inner ear. The inner ear can become inflamed because of an illness or small crystals have become displaced within the semicircular canals causing irritation. This leads to a form of vertigo called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).
How is vertigo diagnosed?
If you suspect you are having symptoms of vertigo, the first step is to see an audiologist for an audiogram (hearing test) to rule out hearing loss as a contributing factor to your dizzy symptoms. Then, a referral should be made to see an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) for a full history to evaluate your symptoms and medications, and next steps, which could include a Videonystagmography (VNG) test. The VNG is important because it is a three-step test to assess the inner ear system while looking for abnormal eye movements at each step. This test determines if your vertigo is central, peripheral, or both.
What are the treatments?
A treatment plan can be determined after identifying the type of vertigo present. One type is a particle repositioning maneuver called the Epley Maneuver; which is a series of head movements to reposition the crystals in the semicircular canals. These maneuvers and other vestibular exercises can be performed by physical therapists. Home exercises can also be given to help relieve symptoms.
By Stacey Braund, Au.D., CCC-A, CBHC Audiologist