When Joy came into my office, she had a friend at her shoulder, helping her walk through the door. Joy could no longer trust her own sense of balance. She often felt like she was falling even though she could see with her eyes that the ground wasn’t moving toward her. And this was no little thing. She had recently taken a tumble because of it and was wearing an arm cast. From what she told me, her injuries could have been much worse.
Vertigo may begin subtly but often develops into a severe condition if left untreated.
What is Vertigo?
Vertigo is a symptom of one of several conditions that causes a person to feel off-balance when they are really not. Humans have a natural instinct to shift their body weight without thinking when they feel off-balance to avoid falling. But with vertigo, since the sense of imbalance isn’t “real,” they often fall as a result.
Common Vertigo Symptoms:
- Feeling like you’re spinning
- Feeling like the world is spinning
- Suddenly feeling pulled in one direction
- Ear ringing (tinnitus)
- Jerky eye movements
- Frequent falls, which may lead to fractures or brain injury
You might think this is just dizziness or light-headedness. But vertigo always has a cause, so if you’re experiencing this, it’s important to determine what that is.
What Causes Vertigo?
Your inner ear is responsible for both hearing and balance. The inner ear contains tiny sensory hairs covered in fluid. Shifts in this fluid communicate with these little hairs about whether you’re standing, leaning over, lying down, etc. If these hairs sense you’re off balance, they tell the brain and the brain quickly communicates to your arms, legs, hips, and other moveable parts that you’re falling over. These body parts automatically respond by trying to stop the fall.
Several diseases can impact how this balance system functions:
- Meniere’s disease – a disease caused by a build-up of excess fluid in the ear. It leads to high pressure that can cause episodes of dizziness. It is often accompanied by ear ringing and hearing loss.
- Vestibular neuritis – Inflammation usually caused by a virus, such as COVID.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – Calcium build-up in the ears.
Each of these can be treated. And you may be able to stop the condition before it causes more permanent damage. For example, vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus are closely linked because balance and hearing both rely on these tiny hairs to function. These tiny hairs don’t grow back if they die, which may lead to more severe and permanent vertigo symptoms.
If you’re experiencing any vertigo, please don’t wait until you have a serious fall. Neurologists are the best healthcare providers to consult for this condition. In Joy’s case, I provided her the name of a colleague here in Memphis who does a great job helping patients manage vertigo. If you are experiencing vertigo and aren’t sure where to go for help, give us a call and we’d be happy to make some suggestions.