Let’s set one thing straight. Despite the commonly held belief, vertigo is actually NOT a fear of heights.
So what actually is it? Vertigo is a condition that affects 1 in 10 people, and involves momentary episodes of dizziness and the feeling that the world around you is moving or spinning. It can be mild and last for just a few seconds, or in other cases, vertigo can be severe and debilitating. But according to consultant physician Dr Nicola Cooper, two out of five of us over 40 experience dizziness, and by the age of 65 it is one of the most common reasons to visit the doctor, so it’s more common than you think.
Symptoms of vertigo
Given the fact that vertigo causes a massive feeling of unbalance, it’s generally accompanied by a loss of balance, or being unable to stand up on your feet properly. As such, you may also feel dizzy, and depending on how severe the attack is, you may be unable to get up. Lots of vertigo sufferers also report feeling dizziness or even sickness when they’re experiencing an attack.
Physiotherapist Nicola Harris told The Guardian, “dizziness covers a multitude of things. It can be a lightheaded feeling, like you are going to faint, which is more likely to be a cardiovascular or breathing pattern problem. Or you may feel unsteady on your feet. When you move your head, it can feel like what you are looking at has to ‘catch up’ with you afterwards.”
One sufferer, Alex Franklin, also revealed how severely it can impact his life. He says, “As a result of my existing ear condition, I’ve found vertigo to be really debilitating. A bout of it can last anything from a few days to weeks with constant dizziness. This at its worst has left me bed bound for days at a time, with the in-ability to even stand without extreme dizziness.”
Causes of vertigo
So what causes vertigo? There are a range of causes of vertigo, and almost all of them are involve your ear, and how that can throw off your balance. The first is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo – otherwise known as BPPV. Despite the fact that you may never have heard of it before, it’s one of the most common causes of the symptom, and something you may well have suffered from recently.
Put simply, it’s the feeling you get when you stand up too quickly, or have been doing tasks that mean you’ve had to keep bending over, and you feel a little dizzy. Attacks can leave you unstable, but tend to only last for a number of seconds. The longest have been known to go on for around two minutes, though this is rare.
It’s caused by small bits of debris in the ear falling off, and can end up causing problems if they fall into the ear’s fluid-filled canals. Head movements, quick and swift, usually cause these to fall off into the canals, leaving you with the symptoms of vertigo.
So what else?
If you’ve had this, you’ll know just what a pain it can be – literally. It’s a nasty old inner ear infection which, due to the labyrinth becoming inflamed, can cause serious disorientation. But why? Well, the labyrinth is actually the place that controls both your hearing and balance, so when it’s inflamed, your brain receives misinformation and conflicting signals – causing dizziness and vertigo. It’s usually caused by a viral infection.
Another inner ear condition. This causes inflammation in the nerve connecting the brain and the labyrinth. Again, it’s usually caused by a viral infection, and can last from anywhere to a few days to a few weeks.
This is another inner ear disease which can causes sudden and severe attacks of vertigo. It’s a rare condition, but it can be severe, causing hearing loss, tinnitus, and a feeling of pressure in your ear. Unfortunately, the disease usually includes nausea and vomiting, due to the feeling of imbalance. Generally symptoms can be controlled by diet and medication. Migraines, tumours and tumours can also cause instances of vertigo, in some cases.
Is there really a vertigo treatment?
Given that vertigo is often a symptom of another condition, it’s usually important to treat the underlying issue, as opposed to only the vertigo itself.
For most of the inner ear infections seen above, a doctor can prescribe medication such as antibiotics – and when the infection is gone, the vertigo will too subside.
However, during an actual attack of vertigo, it can be helpful to adopt a few strategies for getting through it. Most doctors will advise that during an episode of vertigo, it’s essential to get yourself into a dark room to lie down, if you can. Lie still until the feeling has passed, and you feel well enough to get up again.
However, with menieres disease, there really is no vertigo cure, but medication can help to ease symptoms. Antihistamines are also advised in order to get control on the vomiting and vertigo that may occur, while prochlorperazine (an antipsychotic) can control more severe symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
However, that’s not always possible, so in general, it’s always a good idea to remain as calm as possible, and to reduce anxiety in your everyday life – as this can help to reduce the likelihood of attacks.
The NHS offers advice for what to do when you’re in the middle of an attack.
-take your medication
-sit or lie down
-close your eyes, or keep them fixed on an object in front of you
-don’t turn your head quickly
-if you need to move, do so slowly and carefully
But importantly, if you think you have any of the underlying conditions, consult your doctor.
There are also a variety of vertigo exercises, which, although aren’t a vertigo cure, can go some way towards easing symptoms.
The first of two vertigo exercises is the Brandt-Daroff exercise, which is usually advised for BPPV and labyrinthitis. It involves a simple head movement, repeated after a few seconds, and can help to ease symptoms.
The Brandt-Daroff exercise
Doctor Jo, a physical therapist, has offered her take on the exercise, and instructions to help you do it. It’s advised that sufferers do the exercise at least two times a day to start feeling benefits. And if you feel a bit funny in the beginning – don’t worry, it’s totally normal.
Jo says, “You might get a little dizzy and feel a little yucky, but if you hold it for 30 seconds the dizziness will go away”
The Epley manouvere
The Epley manouvere is also another option. It involved 4 30-second head movements which are done in a bid to move the fallen fragments in your ear back into place.
The manouvere is generally well regarded, with users positively commenting on videos, saying, “I was suffering from vertigo for about 2 weeks now. Went to the doctor and he prescribed me some medication for the dizziness but no cure! I left frustrated, got online did some research and found this video. My sister helped me with the head maneuveres and my mother helped count. It’s been 24 hours and I haven’t had a dizzy spell!”
How one vertigo sufferer beat his vertigo symptoms…
Alex Franklin, who has suffered from vertigo for six years, has managed to beat his symptoms of vertigo and find a vertigo cure, with a variety of treaments. He said, “Thankfully I’ve managed to isolate a number of contributing factors, alongside ways to manage it.”
So how did he do it?
“My vertigo is triggered by anything from stress, to a fast-moving car, or even sleeping on my back. But there are ways to deal with all of them – it’s just about employing your own strategies…
“I ensure I tell friends or taxi drivers to drive a little more careful than normal, first of all. It makes for a good conversation starter if nothing else!
“When it comes to sleeping on my back at night, I wear a couple of bigger hair clasps at the back of my hair. I look utterly ridiculous, but it prevents me from laying on my back. This has had a HUGE impact in reducing bouts of vertigo – I used to get it more at night than ever before.
“To reduce stress, I also make sure to take regular breaks at work, ensuring if stress levels do get high, I have at least a good 20 minute lunch to cool down. Generally I do something during lunch, like watch TV, or read something, this helps ensure my mind doesn’t stay on the stress and gets a break.
“I also try to fit in some form of exercise everyday. I do weights at the gym and callisthenics; as I find through doing lots of different movements from different positions I’m able to keep the vertigo at bay. I have no idea what the science is behind this, but it’s far better than the prescribed walking/running!
“I also find it’s so important that I always get at least 6-7 hours of sleep every night, and never have caffeine or stimulants like that. After a cold I generally use olive oil ear drops, just to ensure my ears don’t get blocked up. This is a good bit of pre-treatment to ward off the vertigo before it comes.”
So there really is hope if you’re suffering with persistent vertigo…