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What is Vertigo and how can it be treated?
Health Brief

What is Vertigo and how can it be treated?

Mariana Seiffert

Vertigo isn’t a condition as such, but rather a symptom or sensation of dizziness or loss of balance. The room or environment around you may appear to be moving or spinning and you may feel like you are spinning yourself even though you are completely still. Vertigo can make you feel off balance, dizzy and nauseous.

What Causes Vertigo?

There are numerous things that can cause the symptoms of vertigo such as migraines and conditions relating to the inner ear:

Migraines

A migraine is a headache usually on one side of the head. Pain can be moderate or severe and you may feel dizzy, sick and sensitive to sound or light. Migraines can be triggered by stress, hormonal fluctuation, being overtired or certain foods.

Migraines are a common cause of vertigo. Experiencing vertigo can occur at any point during a migraine, it can occur before the onset of a headache, during a migraine or after the pain has subsided. Vertigo symptoms may include imbalance, dizziness, motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, feeling light-headed and a sense of spinning or falling.

Labyrinthitis

Another common cause of Vertigo is Labyrinthitis (also known as an inner ear infection). The role of the ear isn’t just so that you can hear sounds. The inner ear is responsible for balance. Any disruptions, inflammation or infection of the inner ear can affect your balance.

Labyrinthitis is characterized by swelling or irritation of the inner ear which can cause vertigo and dizziness. The severity of the symptoms can vary. Some people experience mild dizziness or motion sickness whilst others feel unable to move or stand up due to the severity of the spinning sensation. Labyrinthitis may also cause sickness, headache, ringing in the ears, earache or hearing loss.

Labyrinthitis can be either viral or caused by an infection. If viral, antibiotics are unlikely to work whereas a bacterial infection may require medication. Speak to your GP for advice if you think you may have an inner ear infection.

BPPV

A condition called BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo) can also cause vertigo. BPPV is also related to the inner ear but isn’t caused by an infection or virus. The symptoms of vertigo generally occur when making movements such as turning the head. BPPV occurs when small particles (or crystals) become lodged within the inner ear canals. This causes imbalance, particularly when moving the head.

Meniere’s

Meniere's disease is caused by fluid building up in the inner ear. This can cause hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in the ear), a feeling of pressure in the ear and vertigo.

Symptoms can last for a few minutes or a number of hours. There is no cure for Meniere’s but your GP can recommend treatment to ease the symptoms. It’s important to visit your GP if you think you may have Meniere’s as if left untreated, the condition can cause permanent hearing loss.

Heights

Vertigo is commonly referred to as a fear of heights, however, a fear of heights is actually called Acrophobia. Vertigo refers to the feeling of spinning or moving when you are in fact completely still. Looking down from a height can cause the symptoms of vertigo but the symptoms will usually ease when you are no longer at a position of height.

Treatment for Vertigo

Treatment for vertigo will vary depending on exactly what is causing your symptoms. For migraine related vertigo, painkillers or migraine treatment will help. If you have an inner ear infection your GP may recommend antibiotics. If your condition is thought to be viral, the best course of action may be to simply wait until the symptoms ease. Certain types of physical therapy can also be beneficial to treat vertigo.

Things you can do yourself to prevent or treat vertigo include sleeping with your head slightly raised, getting out of bed slowly, avoid bending down quickly and doing simple exercises on the onset of symptoms. Some people find the Epley Menoure helpful (particularly in relation to BPPV). This involves turning your head in specific ways to ease dizziness. Going in a quiet dark room, sitting down as soon as you feel dizzy and trying to stay as relaxed as possible will also help when experiencing symptoms.

Medication such as Cyclizine or Diazepam may also be recommended to treat the symptoms of vertigo. In rare cases, surgery may be recommended as a form of treatment.

If you are experiencing vertigo, your GP will assess your symptoms and will advise the best treatment options for you. In some instances, vertigo may go away on its own and no treatment or medication will be required.