What are ear crystals?
Well, despite their fanciful name, ear crystals are a natural occurrence in our bodies!
Ear crystals, sometimes also referred to as ear stones or otoconia, play a major role in our body’s system of balance.
These crystals are composed of calcium carbonate, and reside in our body’s vestibular system.
Calcium carbonate is an incredibly common substance in our natural world, so not only is it found in our inner ears, it’s also found in many rocks, the shells of snails, eggshells, pearls, and more!
And just like in those other examples, our otoconia plays a specific role in our bodies.
When we move, the crystals move, stimulating the small, hair-like structures in our inner ear, communicating with our brain in order to help us maintain a proper sense of balance.
How big are the crystals in our ears?
Despite what the phrase “ear crystals” might conjure up in your mind’s eye, these crystals are much smaller and less impressive looking than you may think. In fact, our otoconia are quite miniscule.
According to the National Library of Medicine, “Otoconia range in size from 1 to 30 micrometers in humans,” and to put the term micrometer into perspective, a single micrometer measures at 0.000039 inch, and each one of our ears holds about ONE THOUSAND crystals on average, so that’s pretty darn small!
Can ear crystals cause vertigo?
Sometimes our ear crystals can make us feel incredibly dizzy. Why? This is due to their movement away from their standard place in the otolith organs and towards our inner ears’ semicircular canals.
This uncomfortable sensation is a type of vertigo called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo, or BPPV.
It’s amazing how such an incredibly small material can make a small movement and have such an incredible impact on how we feel and our perception of the world around us.
What are common symptoms of BPPV?
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo is incredibly disruptive, if not entirely debilitating for those who experience it. The most common symptoms our patients communicate to us include:
- Loss of balance
- Unsteadiness/lack of sure footedness
- The perception of the world spinning around you
What makes ear crystals move?
It’s really just ordinary, everyday movements that can cause ear crystals to become dislodged, which is the most common reason that people experience effects like vertigo.
However, in more extreme cases, head trauma can also cause the crystals in our ears to move out of place, causing feelings of vertigo despite our making what were previously very normal movements.
Can ear crystals move back to where they belong on their own?
Over time, ear crystals may dissolve, but bear in mind that this could take weeks or longer, and during that time, a person would have to endure the extreme discomfort of BPPV, where even the slightest head movements would throw their world into disarray.
Luckily, experts have created a technique, called the Epley Maneuver, which consists of carefully administered movements that are designed to move the out of place crystals back into the inner ear.
Note: The Epley Maneuver should only be performed by a professional. Doing this maneuver on one’s own is dangerous and can cause additional health issues.
Do ear crystals cause tinnitus?
Ear crystals themselves might not cause tinnitus, but the effects associated with BPPV have been found to trigger feelings of tinnitus in many patients, either before or in conjunction with their dizziness.
A 2013 study found that approximately 20% of those observed described experiencing tinnitus in the same ear that their vertigo originated from.
Unlike the most common forms of tinnitus, the tinnitus associated with BPPV in this study found that, after treatment via repositioning techniques, the tinnitus quickly went away.
Can ear crystals cause headaches?
Yes. Well, sort of.
Much as is the case with the ear crystal movement causing feelings of nausea, dizziness, and loss of balance, one very common symptom associated with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo are headaches.
Though headaches were frequently associated with BPPV in a 2014 study, particularly tension and migraine headaches, these headaches were determined to be an “independently associated phenomenon.
So, while headaches are common in people who are experiencing vertigo, they may not be because of BPPV, but will certainly add to the distressing nature of the overall experience.
What can I do about ear crystals and BPPV?
Luckily, there’s no need for surgery — not even a need for medicine!
At Colorado Ear Care, we have a number of techniques we can use to help people suffering from BPPV, one of which is called Canalith Repositioning.
This technique, which has been perfected over the course of the past 25 years, has an incredibly high success rate, even after just three or four treatments.
Essentially, our providers will use this procedure to move the crystals from your semicircular canals back to where they belong, relieving your feelings of BPPV. Over time, the offending crystals will either dissolve or be absorbed by your body.
Remember! The Epley Maneuver and similar techniques should only be performed by a professional. Doing this maneuver on one’s own is dangerous and can cause additional health issues.
Who should I contact for my dizziness and balance issues?
If you or a loved one has been dealing with dizziness, loss of balance, or other symptoms associated with vertigo, then getting expert care, testing, and treatment is the best way to get the relief you deserve.
Colorado Ear Care offers comprehensive balance and dizziness services, including BPPV, equilibrium issues, balance disorders, fall risk prevention, as well as a full array of hearing resources.