I often have people come to be evaluated for “vertigo” thinking it’s synonymous with dizziness or thinking this alone is some horrible diagnosis but they’re wrong.
First of all vertigo is merely a symptom. Like “cough” is a symptom. To say a person has vertigo does not tell you what the cause is or what type it is. Vertigo is the sensation of spinning or movement. Some people will say the room is spinning. Others will say my head is spinning. That’s pretty much the same thing. Vertigo is not lightheadedness. It is often not disequilibrium or poor balance although it can contribute to both. When vertigo is due to an ear problem, it is often associated with a beating movement of the eyes called nystagmus. This would have to be witnessed by another person watching the subjects eyes who is complaining of vertigo.
There are several causes of vertigo that are common. The cause can usually be identified by the length of time one has the actual vertigo episode. For example, brief episodes of room spinning vertigo with change of position are typically “Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo (BPPV)”. When vertigo lasts for more than a couple of hours, then it is usually “Labyrinthitis”. In between these two time periods could be “Meniere’s Disease” and “Vestibular Migraines”.
BPPV is commonly though to be caused by “loose crystals” in the inner ear. How they loosen can be a mystery but head trauma can definitely do it. Sometimes BPPV comes after a bout of Labyrinthitis. This is usually an inflammatory condition and this could be due to loose cellular debris floating around in the semicircular canals of the inner ear.
Labyrinthitis is typically due to a viral infection of the inner ear. No one can really see that. It’s just assumed based on physical findings and history. You can get labyrinthitis from a middle ear infection but this is rare.
There are other causes of vertigo which are less common. Meniere’s Disease is a build up of hydro-static pressure in the inner ear which presents with vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in the ear) and a hearing loss which is usually fluctuating. Some forms of vertigo are due to migraines which instead of producing visual complaints or other neurological symptoms cause vertigo with irritability when exposed to light or sound.
In another blog I will discuss the treatment but I figured you might be getting bored or overwhelmed at this point. Stay tuned.