When a television comedian trips over furniture or stumbles across the room, it usually results in a good chuckle. But for many Americans, dizziness and balance problems are not a laughing matter.  In fact, these are common signs of vertigo. 

What is Vertigo? 

Vertigo is a sudden, spinning sensation which causes periods of intense dizziness. One of the most common forms of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which occurs when you place your head in certain positions. Patients experience BPPV most often when lying down. 

The most common symptoms of BPPV are:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A sense that everything is spinning
  • Balance problems
  • Dizziness
  • Rhythmic eye movement called geotropic rotary nystagmus 
  • Episodes that may subside then reappear

There are several possible causes of BPPV. To truly understand how vertigo affects your sense of balance, it’s important to understand the vital role of your inner ear.

The Inner Ear: A Balancing Act

Keeping the body in balance is something we all take for granted…until something goes wrong.

To stay steady and upright, several systems have to work together. Muscles, bones, vision and joints send a variety of signals to the brain to keep your body from tipping over. Together, they are known as the vestibular system. Balance depends upon your brain interpreting a variety of signals from the vestibular system.

At the heart of the vestibular system is a complicated, maze-like structure made of bone and soft tissue located within the inner ear. It’s aptly called the labyrinth.

Inside the labyrinth are small structures called semicircular canals, which contain three fluid-filled ducts. These ducts form loops arranged at right angles. They inform your brain about how your head is rotating and if it’s moving right to left or up and down.

Inside each canal is a gel-like structure called the cupula. The cupula stretches across each fluid duct like a drumhead, and it sits on a cluster of sensory hair cells. When you turn your head, fluid inside the semicircular canal moves, causing the cupula to flex. Your brain receives information from this nerve signal, letting it know how your head and body are positioned. 

When calcium particles are dislodged from the part of the ear that responds to linear motion, they can stimulate nerve endings in these balance canals. This means your brain receives a message that you’re moving in a direction that you’re not.  This causes vertigo’s characteristic dizziness and spinning

Is There a Cure for BPPV?

Thankfully, BPPV is very treatable. It may even go away on its own. However, for more immediate relief, our physicians offer help through the Canalith Repositioning Procedures.  During this treatment, your head is slowly moved into different positions. This will move the particles from your inner ear to another area where the particles are easily reabsorbed. 

Are There Any Treatments for Other Balance Disorders?

An ENT physician can diagnose and treat BPPV and a variety of balance disorders. At Raleigh Capitol ENT, we conduct tests such as an electronystagmography (ENG) or videonystagmography (VNG). These tests help us determine the cause of your balance problems and the best course of treatment. 

During these tests, we may place electrodes around your eyes to record eye movement. (Don’t worry, the electrodes are painless!)  Patients may also be asked to follow track lights on a lighted bar or turn their head to several different positions.

We also irrigate patients’ ears with cool and warm air because these may cause a few minutes of dizziness and help us determine the cause of the balance disorder. 

If you’ve been accused of being clumsy or if you’ve experienced times when the entire room felt like it was spinning, it’s important to know that you’re not alone. There’s no need to suffer these symptoms. Our ENT physicians are experts who can provide a treatment tailored to fit your needs.
Contact us to schedule an appointment. We’ll be glad to help you.


Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. We offer six local ENT offices throughout Raleigh, Cary, Garner and Wake Forest. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us

Sources:

American Association of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.  “Dizziness and Motion Sickness.” Online 

National Institute of Health. “Balance Disorders.” National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication 
Disorders. 

The Mayo Clinic. “Balance Problems Overview.” Online.

The Mayo Clinic. “Balance Problems Symptoms and Causes.” Online.

The Mayo Clinic. “Vertigo.” Online.

The Mayo Clinic. “Vertigo: Treatments.” Online.