What Causes Vertigo, and How Is It Treated?

by | May 30, 2023 | Balance/Dizziness

What is vertigo? 

While dizziness and vertigo are often used interchangeably, they are actually very different sensations to the person experiencing them. Whereas dizziness is used to describe a general loss of balance or lightheadedness, vertigo usually presents as a feeling of the world spinning around you, even if you’re standing still. 

Vertigo can be very disorienting and can even lead to nausea, loss of balance, mobility issues, and more, so it’s often very concerning when you experience it for the first time. 

We see a lot of patients that experience vertigo in our practice, and we find that a lot of people don’t know much about vertigo other than their unique experience with it, especially what causes it and what the treatment is. 

So, what causes vertigo and how is it normally treated? Read on for everything you need to know.

What causes vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by a variety of different things, including neurological disorders, medications, or other health issues. More specifically, some of the causes of vertigo include:

  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Strokes
  • Migraines
  • Diabetes
  • Prescription medications
  • Panic attacks
  • Hyperventilation 
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

No matter the cause, vertigo is usually triggered in the inner ears, which is where the vestibular system lives — the system responsible for balance — and when this system is thrown out of balance, it can cause an array of uncomfortable symptoms or balance issues. 

Outside of health conditions like MS and Meniere’s Disease, one of the more common causes of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV for short, and we see patients with BPPV a lot in our practice.

BPPV happens when the otoconia, or ear crystals, in your inner ear break loose and make their way into another part of the vestibular system. These ear crystals are housed in the otolith organs and are used by your system to monitor gravity and your relationship to it and then pass that information to the brain. 

When one or more of these crystals break off, they can enter another part of your vestibular system called the semicircular canals, which process and translate information about your head’s movement. These crystals make the semicircular canals more sensitive, and this is what causes the dizzy feeling associated with BPPV. 

How long does vertigo last?

Individual episodes of vertigo can last for less than a minute or, in rarer cases, several hours, depending on the cause and severity. Those with BPPV, for example, probably experience shorter episodes of vertigo at a less frequent rate than someone who suffers from vertigo as a result of an underlying health condition or prescription medications. 

For most people, especially those who experience BPPV, vertigo will usually resolve in a few months, even without significant treatment. In fact, a recent study showed that about half of people with BPPV see their symptoms dissipate in less than three months with little to no intervention. 

And, for those whose vertigo lasts longer or is more consistent, there are treatment options available, like Canalith repositioning.

What’s the treatment for vertigo? 

In the case of BPPV, canalith repositioning is a very effective treatment for those suffering from episodes of vertigo, and it’s something we use to help our patients regularly. 

In a nutshell, canalith repositioning is a treatment done by an audiologist or other ear expert to provide relief of BPPV symptoms in patients where symptoms don’t resolve themselves or are impacting the patient’s ability to live a normal life. On the surface, it’s very simple: the ear crystals that have dislodged from their normal place are carefully moved back to where they belong, where they can dissolve or be reabsorbed without causing further issues. 

While it is a generally simple procedure, it requires expert maneuvering in order to execute safely, so it’s crucial that you see a professional if you’re experiencing vertigo or are diagnosed with BPPV that requires treatment.

For those experiencing vertigo due to other causes, like an underlying health condition or medications, your primary care physician should be your first call. They can help identify the root cause of your vertigo and treat it through other means or help you find an audiologist if an inner ear issue is to blame for your vertigo.

Colorado Ear Care is your go-to provider for balance and dizziness

Vertigo can be very disorienting and can lead to a host of more serious concerns, like increased fall risk or nausea, which is why it’s so important to understand what’s causing your vertigo episodes and seek the relevant treatment. 

If you are suffering from dizziness or another balance disorder, it may be time to contact a professional, like the team at Colorado Ear Care. We have the most thorough and complete dizziness and vestibular testing in the state of Colorado. Come see us today

Talk with one of our friendly hearing and balance professionals today.