Have you ever suddenly felt like you’re spinning or that everything around you is moving? This sensation may last for a few seconds, minutes, hours or even days. This could be the first sign of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which is one of the most common causes of vertigo. It is caused by a problem in the inner ear when small calcium “stones” in your ear canal, used to keep your balance, move out of place.
“Vertigo itself is a symptom and not a diagnosis,” explains Dr. Azarm Golian, a Family Physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at North York General Hospital (NYGH). “It is often described as a “room-spinning” sensation or a sense of swaying or tilting. An episode of BPPV is almost always triggered and recurrent and some associated symptoms can include nausea and vomiting.”
Dr. Golian says that other inner ear problems include Meniere’s disease and vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis. “Some causes of vertigo are more prevalent in certain age groups,” explains Dr. Golian. “For example, acoustic neuroma, a potential cause of vertigo, is rare in children and the median age at diagnosis is approximately 50 years.”
Diagnosis and treatment
“A detailed history and physical exam generally confirm vestibular dysfunction and allows health care providers to make a hypothesis about the site and type of lesion,” says Dr. Li Yang Liu, also a Family Physician in our Department of Family and Community Medicine. “Diagnostic tests, such as a brain MRI, may be useful in confirming a certain diagnosis.”
Dr. Liu also says that treatment of the underlying disease improves vertigo and there are also medications available to alleviate vestibular symptoms. Your doctor may take you through a series of movements called the canalith repositioning procedure. It consists of moving your head in order to move particles in your inner ear, which cause you to feel dizzy, to an area in your ear where they won’t.
If you think you have experienced these symptoms, Dr. Liu recommends you speak with your health care provider for more information and treatment.
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