The Joint Ventures' Blog

Why Am I Dizzy? A Brief Overview of Vestibular Disorders

Friday, May 31, 2019

Have you ever experienced dizziness, vertigo, or loss of balance? Most people do at some point in their life, and many times, it goes undiagnosed or dissipates quickly enough that it cannot be detected at the doctor’s office.

Some dizziness can be causes by more serious medical conditions (e.g. a stroke, low or high blood pressure, heart attacks, etc.). These medical emergencies are life threatening and those with symptoms of a stroke or heart attack should seek medical attention immediately. However, more often, a person’s symptoms can arise from dysfunction in the vestibular system. The vestibular system is a complex system in the inner ear that helps with balance and gives you an awareness of your orientation in space. If your vestibular system isn’t working well, you become may dizzy and/or unstable, which interferes with your daily life, making it difficult to participate in work, social, and household activities.

Identifying the type of vestibular disorder is important for successful treatment. Below are common diagnoses seen in those with vestibular dysfunction:

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, also known as BPPV, is the most common disorder. It is a condition that causes vertigo after moving your head, for example when lying down/sitting up in bed or rolling over. With BPPV, small crystals of calcium carbonate called “otoconia” in your inner ear fall into the canals in your inner ear that normally help you decide which way your head turns during daily activities. If these crystals are in the canals when you move your head, the crystals cause the liquid to move for longer than the actual head turns, thus sending “incorrect” information to your brain regarding your head position. These “incorrect” signal causes vertigo, or the feeling of the room spinning. Patients who suffer from BPPV may have brief periods of vertigo with position changes that are often very intense. Your physical therapist can do some maneuvers to help clear the crystals from the canals and improve your sypmtoms usually within a few treatments. Many studies have been done into the effectiveness of treatment maneuvers for BPPV, with results showing rates of resolution well into the 90% range within 1-3 treatments.1

Labyrinthitis or Vestibular Neuritis results in dizziness, loss of balance and possible hearing loss or ringing in the ears. It is usually caused by a chronic or untreated infection of the inner ear that happens as a result of an upper-respiratory infection like the common cold or a virus. Ringing in your ears or hearing changes usually subside when the infection clears up, but sometimes the dizziness and unsteadiness persist. In this case, physical therapy exercises are given to assist in the recovery of the inner ear nerve and may help to decrease the remaining symptoms.

Meniere's disease is a condition caused by imbalance of the fluid in the inner ear. Symptoms include vertigo, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears. Some people experience many symptoms within a short period of time, followed by months or years without them. Other people can have more frequent flare ups of symptoms. Even though physical therapy does not cure the condition, it can help to manage any residual vestibular symptoms post-flare up with vestibular and balance exercises.

Post-Concussion Syndrome, or PCS, is a wide variety of symptoms that persist for weeks or months following a head trauma. Loss of consciousness is not required for a diagnosis of concussion or PCS. Symptoms can include: headaches; dizziness; memory and concentration problems; visual and mood disorders; tiredness; sensitivity to light and/or noises; and inability to return to regular work or sports activities. Physical therapy treatment is directed to the specific symptom(s) present for each person and may include exercises for eye tracking and visual perception or balance exercises; cervical spine trigger point release for headaches; postural exercises; dual tasks/cognitive exercises; cardiovascular training; and education on how to return to regular activities.

Though these are only a few of the many possible diagnoses for people with dizziness, an evaluation and treatment by your physical therapist is essential to help manage your symptoms. If you would like to schedule an evaluation, please ask to see a vestibular physical therapist at your closest Joint Ventures location. It is a specialized area of physical therapy that not every clinician can treat. Don’t let dizziness prevent you from enjoying your life – come see us to help you live your best life.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described in this blog post, you may want to consider scheduling an evaluation for physical therapy. If you are looking to learn more about Vestibular Physical Therapy, please feel free to contact any of our Vestibular Specialists:

 

Reference:

  • 1.Parnes LS, et al. Diagnosis and management of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). CMAJ. 2003 169(7):681-693.

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