Vertigo is special kind of dizziness that give you a severe sense of spinning or motion. It is usually a sign of an inner ear disorder, but can be a result of the balance nerve (vestibulo-cochlear nerve) or balance center in the brain. Vertigo can be quite severe and troubling, accounting for a large number of emergency department visits.
A good description of the vertigo, how it starts and how long it lasts is critical in understanding what type of vertigo you are dealing with. One of the most common types of vertigo is called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo or BPPV.
BPPV is a result of dislocated microscopic calcium crystals within the inner ear. The inner systems (balance portion) are like miniature gyroscopes that send signals to your brain about the relative position and motion of your head. Electronic devices like iPhones have little “accelerometers” in them that do similar things, allowing your device to know “which way is up” and which way the phone is pointed.
The miniature gyroscopes have a series of fluid-filled channels with sensors and small crystals that can detect how the head is moving, and what position the head is in relative to the pull of gravity.
Minor trauma or just back luck can result in these tiny crystals becoming displaced and “falling” into other parts of the inner ear. This causes a severe but short-lived short-circuit in the system, causing the brain to think your head is spinning out of control.
Typically BPPV is triggered by certain specific head movements, and will give a dramatic spinning feeling for about 30 seconds. This may feel like a lot longer! This feeling is usually followed by a general sense of fatigue, illness or nausea for several minutes or an hour.
The good news is this particular type of vertigo is very curable with fairly simple treatment steps done in the office. You should be able to get back on your feet and moving again in just a few minutes with a special physical treatment called the Epley maneuver. This treatment puts the microscopic crystals back into their normal position and solves the problem. Recurrences may happen in the future, but it remains easy to fix usually.
Issues involving the inner ear often require a hearing test as well, which can be arranged during your visit.