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Vertigo

Vertigo sufferers have symptoms of dizziness and poor balance.

Those suffering from vertigo will feel extreme dizziness, as if the world is spinning around them. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Those suffering from vertigo will feel extreme dizziness, as if the world is spinning around them.

Vertigo

Vertigo is a disorder of the inner ear that causes a sensation of motion resulting in problems with balance and walking. The disorder causes a false impression of movement, typically making the individual feel an extreme spinning sensation . Vertigo is one of four different types of dizziness. Therefore, even though vertigo is always dizziness, dizziness is not always considered vertigo. True vertigo, derived from the Latin vertere, is an extremely severe form of dizziness. Though the disorder most commonly affects elderly patients, it can affect anyone at any age. If a patient experiences a sense of imbalance and hearing difficulty, the patient should seek treatment from a qualified specialist.

Diagnosis of Vertigo

Typically, patients suffering from vertigo experience symptoms of dizziness, nausea, vomiting and a sensation that they are off-balance when they walk. The problem can appear suddenly and diminish rapidly with severe vertigo, or it can be more long-term in the case of acute vertigo. In either case, an ear specialist - an otolaryngologist -- can determine the source of the problem.

According to American-Hearing.org, a qualified otolaryngologist can determine if the patient is suffering from vertigo and will adopt a specific course of treatment. Patients most commonly manifest signs of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which is caused by the dislocation of otoconial crystals in the ear. The dislodged crystals interact with the hair cells inside the vestibular system of the inner ear leading to the false sensation of a spinning motion . To diagnose the problem, an ear specialist will request certain tests. Typically, the physician will run a series of blood panels, conduct a hearing exam and perform an electronystagmogram, which is a test of the vestibular system.

Vertigo can also occur in cases of Meniere's disease, a condition in which fluid builds up inside the inner ear. Patients who have this problem often experience episodes of vertigo that can last from several minutes to several hours. The patient will usually also have problems with tinnitus (ringing in the ears), nausea and mild hearing loss.

Causes of Vertigo

The vestibular system of the inner ear works with the visual system to help control the body's sense of focus and balance when the head is in motion. When a person develops benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, the brain begins to misread the signals being sent by the visual and vestibular systems.

According to The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) common causes of the disorder are:

• Recent ear infection
• Ear surgery
• Poor blood circulation
• Normal degeneration of the ear membranes
 
Vertigo most commonly affects the elderly and if the problem goes undetected can lead to severe falls and injuries. Vestibule disorders are the cause of 50 percent of patient complaints of dizziness.

Treatment for Vertigo

There are many approaches to treating vertigo. The most common treatments tend to focus on the underlying causes of the problem. For example, if an ear infection is the root cause, then treating the infection is the approach doctors will take. Other options are to utilize aminoglycosides (antibiotics), such as injections of streptomycin and/or gentamicin used topically and placed directly into the inner ear. These drugs are helpful in stimulating the hair cells and restoring balance. However, it is important to note that gentamicin can also affect the hair cells in the cochlea and this could lead to hearing loss.

In addition, it is crucial that a physician provide relief of the symptoms to help return the patient to a better state of health. Often, doctors prescribe diazepam -- a nerve suppressant -- to help restore a sense of balance. Additionally, various medications can be prescribed to help eliminate nausea, such as promethazine, also known as Phenergan, or trimethobenzamide, otherwise known as Tigan.

Prevention of Vertigo

Vestibular balance tests should be conducted on any patients, regardless of age, who experience episodes of dizziness and nausea. Such tests are highly sensitive and can help prevent serious long-term problems. It is important to request such tests any time a patient experiences persistent difficulties with balance and hearing.

Since there is really no way to prevent vertigo prior to the first episode, sufferers should avoid situations that could result in a fall. The Mayo Clinic offers several suggestions for fall prevention:

• Eliminate rugs and make sure phone/electrical cords are out of the way
• Ensure that carpeting is fixed firmly to the floor and there are no creases or unlevel areas
• Put safely rails near the toilet to ensure safety and good balance.
• Mount safety bars in the bath and shower in case a fall occurs
• Place a chair in the shower
• Install better lighting in stairwells to help with visual problems in dark areas
• Use the rails to help when going up/down the stairs
• Place night lights in the bedroom and bathroom

New Horizons for Vertigo Patients

Scientific studies are now pursuing clearer understanding of the sensitive link between hearing and vision and the impact of disorders of the vestibular system. Scientists now use computer models to refine scientific understanding of this area. In addition, they use this information to help develop better and more exact therapies for those struggling with balance disorders like vertigo.

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