Do you have frequent dizzy spells? Does the room feel like it’s spinning? Then you may suffer from vertigo – a debilitating (and sometimes chronic) condition that affects as many as 1.5 million Canadians to-date.
While vertigo itself is a bit of a mystery (which oftentimes makes it a difficult condition to diagnose), what we do know is that the dizziness associated with vertigo is the result of improper function of the peripheral vestibular system (including structures of the inner ear) or the central vestibular system (including the brainstem, cerebellum, and vestibular nerve.) It can also be caused by a wide range of other medical conditions including but not limited to certain viruses, head injury, stroke, tumours, migraines, genetic conditions, or autoimmune diseases. If you are a sound engineer, have been in the military, or play contact sports (such as football or hockey) then you are at an increased risk of developing chronic vertigo as a result of vestibular concussions. In an interview with CBC, Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and author, also said that life back on earth had proven to be somewhat challenging, having experienced motion disturbances and dizziness for some time after turning from the International Space Station.
One of the most common reasons why vertigo is so difficult to diagnose is due to the range in which the symptoms can vary from person to person. For example, a symptom or symptoms that one individual with vertigo experiences will most likely not be the same symptom or symptoms that another person will experience. The most common symptom of vertigo, as mentioned, is dizziness. You may also develop loss of balance, nausea, a headache, ringing in the ears, sweating, as well as abnormal eye movements. These symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours and may even come and go throughout the day. The best thing to do if you experience any of these symptoms is to rest, but also make sure you book an appointment with your family doctor or go to the nearest available walk-in clinic – especially if the symptoms are persistent and recurring.
Treatment for vertigo all depends on what’s causing it. However, most cases of vertigo will go away on their own. If the vertigo is caused by an infection or inflammation, medication (such as antibiotics and NSAIDs) will be prescribed to help relieve symptoms. Treatment may also include vestibular rehabilitation – a type of physical therapy that helps strengthen the vestibular system, as well as something known as canalith repositioning maneuvers which is done through a series of very specific head and body movements. If vertigo is caused by a serious underlying medical condition, like a brain injury or tumour, getting treatment for those issues may also alleviate the symptoms associated with vertigo. In rare cases, patients with vertigo may also require surgery. Though, as with many medical conditions, surgery is always done as a last-resort option and when all other treatment attempts have been unsuccessful.
Aside from vertigo, there are other medical conditions that may cause dizziness, including but not limited to severe ear infections, age-related imbalance, and motion sickness. It’s also not uncommon to develop dizziness as a result of having the flu. For more information, visit BC Balance and Dizziness at balanceanddizziness.org.