Health Break | Published April 11, 2005 | Written by Beverly Huff

Don't Let Dizziness Get You Down

Dizziness is one of the most common of health complaints, and can be a particularly annoying ailment to deal with. Recurrent dizziness can interfere with day-to-day living.

Dizziness can also be a frustrating condition to diagnose, because the symptoms can be derived from several sources. For example, dizziness can be the result of ear, nose and throat problems, heart problems, brain problems, nerve problems or psychological problems. There are four distinct types of dizziness: vertigo, lightheadedness, disequilibrium, and anxiety.

Discovering the root cause of a patient’s dizziness is crucial to providing proper care. For example, a patient whose dizziness is due to a heart problem would be sent to a cardiologist, whereas a patient whose dizziness is due to nerve problems would be sent to a neurologist.

One of the most common forms of dizziness is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. Symptoms include dizziness that lasts a few seconds after changes in head position on the vertical plane, such as sitting up in bed, turning over, looking up, or bending over.

People with BPPV often feel dizzy and/or unsteady, even nauseous with any up or down head movements.

BPPV is caused by loose particles of otoconia – calcium deposits – in the inner ear that float mainly into the posterior semi-circular canal. The canal is fluid filled, and the rotation of this fluid with head motion signals to the brain that motion has occurred.

When the calcium deposits float into this canal, they continue to settle after the fluid stops moving. This momentary movement of the calcium deposit continues to signal the brain after the movement ends. The brain continues to make adjustments with the eyes for motion that is no longer taking place, causing the momentary feeling of dizziness or unsteadiness.

Many people think that this type of dizziness is typical of getting older, and is something they must live with. And, while BPPV is most common among the aging population, it can occur at any age. The most common cause of BPPV in people under 50 years of age is head injury. There is also an association with migraine.

Untreated, BPPV can take months or weeks to resolve. But, there is a non-invasive treatment for this type of dizziness that takes about 10 minutes. It is a head-positioning maneuver that works the calcium deposits back into the area they are supposed to be in, and then the calcium deposits are naturally dissolved or moved out of the system.

There is a very simple test to detect BPPV. It is a head hanging procedure that takes about two to three minutes to determine the presence of BPPV and the affected side.

Remember, also, there are many other causes of dizziness, and many different types of dizziness. If you, or someone you know, has problems with dizziness, it is best to make an appointment with a doctor to determine the source of the problem.

If you have questions regarding dizziness, please feel free to call the Audiology Department at Mount Nittany Medical Center at 814.234.6106.

Beverly Huff is a certified licensed audiologist at Mount Nittany Medical Center.