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Oh, No! Vertigo! by Alison Sims, M.D.

Dr. Sims croppedIt is quite disconcerting to wake up one day and suddenly feel like your balance is off without warning. It may feel like you’re on a boat deck and you are using the wall for support at times, or it may be more severe with a sensation that the room is spinning every time you roll over in bed, or turn your head quickly and it can make you very nauseous.  A common cause of dizziness is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV, and it is not dangerous, but the diagnosis requires evaluation by a doctor to rule out other more serious and dangerous causes of vertigo.

BPPV is more common in people over 60 years of age, and once you have had it, it is more likely to reoccur. It is simply a malfunction of the otoliths or crystals that float in the fluid of your three inner ear vestibular canals that get displaced and thus “read” your sense of position incorrectly. It is associated with the aging of the inner ear, but BPPV can also be caused by head trauma, excessive spinning such as on amusement park rides, a recent binge of excessive alcohol intake, long boat rides that are exceptionally rough, or a bacterial or viral inner ear infection.

BPPV usually resolves slowly on its own over the course of several days and rarely over several weeks. There are anti-nausea medications that your doctor can give you to help you through the episodes and there are home exercises called the Epley maneuver, the Semont maneuver, and the Half Somersault or Foster maneuver to reposition the otoliths inside the inner ear and often diminish the vertigo more rapidly. You can find these maneuvers on WebMD. The cure rate with these maneuvers is about 80 percent but they require that you remain in an upright position after the maneuver for 48 hours, and even sleep in a semi-upright position to allow the inner ear to resolve the problem completely.

Be aware that you should not try to self-treat any vertigo.  You should seek a physician to review your history, symptoms and thoroughly examine you. Red flags that indicate your vertigo may be caused by something other than BPPV include headaches, vomiting, fevers, hearing impairment, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, severe gait instability, or speech problems. You must be evaluated by a physician immediately if any of these symptoms happen to you. If warranted, your physician may need to do imaging tests to rule out more serious causes of vertigo.

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.