Dizziness…it’s in your ears

Try a simple exercise – as you read this article, shake your head rapidly from side-to-side. The print will stay reasonable still even though your head is moving. This scenario is an example of how the body’s balance (vestibular) system compensates for daily changes in our spatial orientation. Balance is a state of body equilibrium or stability. We often take for granted how dependent we are on balance to keep us healthy and feeling well. When the system breaks down or is weak, people will describe symptoms such as dizziness, lightheadedness, vertigo or unsteadiness.

What causes dizziness?
The brain coordinates information from the eyes, the inner ear and the body's senses to maintain balance. If any of these information sources are disrupted, a person can perceive themselves as being dizzy. For example, people sometimes experience motion sickness because the information from their body tells the brain that they are sitting still, but information from the eyes indicates that they are moving.

There are a large number of causes of dizziness. The most common causes of vertigo or dizziness are cold viruses, medication you may be taking, head trauma, positional vertigo or Meniere’s disease.

Dizziness falls into four general types:

  • Feeling of unsteadiness or imbalanced
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Feeling like your going to faint
  • Vertigo – the actual sensation that you are spinning and seeing the world around you spinning at the same time.

When experiencing dizziness it is very important to be able to describe to your physician what types of dizziness you are experiencing.

What is positional vertigo?
Positional vertigo is a type of dizziness that occurs when a person changes the position of their head. The most common form of this condition is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo or BPPV. With BPPV, when lying down with the affected ear towards the ground, the person will get a brief but very intense feeling of the room spinning around them.

What is Meniere’s disease?
Meniere’s disease is an inner ear fluid disorder that causes episodes of intense vertigo or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), hearing loss and the sense that the ears are full. The cause of Meniere’s disease is unknown at this time.

Diagnosing the cause of dizziness?
Audiologists specialize in hearing and balance and can help in diagnosing and treatment of dizziness disorders. This is done with a detailed medical history and a balance examination called an Electronystagmography (ENG). Because the eyes and the balance organs of the inner ears communicate with each other all the time, ENG testing often holds clues to vestibular dysfunction by recording eye movement with the patient in a variety of situations.

How is dizziness treated?
Treatment for dizziness will vary according to the diagnosis. However, most causes of dizziness can be treated with vestibular physical therapy, medication, diet changes and in severe cases, surgery. Many cases of dizziness resolve on its own. It is important to see a healthcare provider if you are experiencing any unexplained, recurrent, severe dizziness or vertigo.