Dizziness is a word that is often used to describe two different feelings. Our balance system helps us walk, run, and move without falling. Balance is controlled through signals to the brain from your eyes, the inner ear (vestibular system), and the sensory systems of the body, such as the skin, muscles, and joints. Knowing exactly what you mean you say you are dizzy can help you and your doctor narrow down the list of potential issues.
If you experience a light headed sensation of losing your balance, or a sense of feeling unsteady, you may be one of the millions of Americans who experience dizziness. It is one of the most common complaints and affects 20 – 30% of the general population.
When your balance is weakened, you may feel unsteady, disoriented or woozy. You may have blurred vision or experience a sensation of movement. It may seem that the room is spinning (vertigo). You may not be able to walk or get up without staggering. Sometimes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, faintness, changes in heart rate and blood pressure accompany the dizziness and balance problems.
Dizziness can be associated with a variety of conditions, including:
- Viral or bacterial infections, including ear infections
- Foreign objects in the ear canal
- Blood pressure changes
- Vascular problems
- A fistula (hole) in the inner ear
- Medicines or drugs poisonous to the ear or balance system
- Multiple sclerosis
- Visual disorders
- Tumors, especially of the vestibular portion of the eighth cranial nerve (known as acoustic neuroma)
- Head injury
There are other types of dizziness that affect people, and certain characteristics accompany them.
- Lightheadedness is a feeling that you are about to faint or “pass out.” Although you may feel dizzy, you do not feel as though you or your surroundings are moving. Lightheadedness often goes away or improves when you lie down. If lightheadedness gets worse, it can lead to a feeling of almost fainting or a fainting spell. You may sometimes feel nauseated or vomit when you are lightheaded.
- Vertigo is a feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no actual movement. You may feel as though you are spinning, whirling, falling, or tilting. When you have severe vertigo, you may feel very nauseated or vomit. You may have trouble walking or standing, and you may lose your balance and fall.
Although dizziness can occur in people of any age, it is more common among older adults. A fear of dizziness can cause older adults to limit their physical and social activities. Dizziness can also lead to falls and other injuries.
What is Vertigo?
A type of dizzy feeling, like everything around you is moving or spinning, vertigo is most often caused by an inner ear problem, but can also be linked to an eyesight problem. It’s different than a “dizzy spell” insofar that “vertigo is a persistent sense of motion, a feeling of tilting, swaying, spinning, when nothing is moving. The sensations are typically accompanied by sweating, vomiting and nausea. People with vertigo often feel that things around them are moving when they are standing completely still.” [Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160900.php]
It is believe that vertigo is more severe than dizziness, which can be a short-term reaction to a sudden change in position. The balance issue that comes with vertigo is what makes it more severe, and creates a situation in which it is hard for a person to move around without stumbling or feeling like they are falling.
Vertigo implies there is a sensation of motion either of the person or the environment, often perceived as if the room is spinning around you. This should not be confused with symptoms of lightheadedness or fainting. Vertigo differs from motion sickness in that motion sickness is a feeling of being off-balance and lacking equilibrium, caused by repeated motions such as riding in a car or boat.
If true vertigo exists, symptoms include a sensation of disorientation or motion. In addition, the individual may also have any or all of these symptoms:
- nausea or vomiting
- abnormal eye movements
The duration of symptoms can be from minutes to hours, and symptoms can be constant or episodic. The onset may be due to a movement or change in position. It is important to tell the doctor about any recent head trauma or whiplash injury as well as any new medications the affected individual is taking.
The person may have hearing loss and a ringing sensation in the ears.
The person might have visual disturbances, weakness, difficulty speaking, a decreased level of consciousness, and difficulty walking.
What are the causes of vertigo?
Vertigo can be caused by a problem with the balance mechanisms of the inner ear, a problem with the brain, or a problem with the nerves that connect the brain to the middle ear.
Inflammation is another common culprit. The vestibule in the inner ear, along with the semicircular canals around it, work with the brain to control balance. When the nerve that connects to the vestibule is inflamed, patients will experience vertigo.
A common cause of inflammation in the ear is from a virus or bacterial infection of the canals and cavities within the ear, and usually appears after a respiratory infection or flu. Many patients complain of pain within the ear as well, and can have a fever when an infection leads to the inflammation.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is common among elderly patients . The vestibular labyrinth, inside the ear, includes semicircular canals (loop-shaped structures) that contain fluid and tiny hair-like sensors that monitor the rotation of the head. The otolith organs, also in the ear, monitor movements of the head and its position. There are crystals in the otolith organs that make us sensitive to movement. Sometimes, when the patient is lying down, these crystals can become dislodged and move into one of the semicircular canals, making it sensitive to head position changes – something it would not normally do. This unusual response to head movements by the semicircular canal can give patients vertigo symptoms. A blow to the head can cause BBPV; even a minor blow. BBPV can also be caused by disorders that damage the inner ear, infection, ear surgery damage, or if the patient has been lying on his/her back for too long.
Inner ear issues that cause dizziness or vertigo often cause balance problems. Your brain uses input from four sensory systems to maintain your sense of balance and orientation to your surroundings.
- Vision- provides information about your position and motion in relationship to the rest of the world. This is an important part of the balance mechanism and often overrides information from the other balance-sensing systems.
- Sensory nerves in your joints allow your brain to keep track of the position of your legs, arms, and torso. Your body is then automatically able to make tiny changes in posture that help you maintain your balance.
- Skin pressure sensation gives you information about your body’s position and motion in relationship to gravity.
- The Labyrinth of the inner ear detects motion and changes in position. Any infection of inflammation of the labyrinth, as discussed above, can send false signals to the brain that conflict with the other balance and positioning centers of the body.
Balance disorders can also be caused by health conditions and certain medications. A feeling like you are about to fall is the most commonly reported symptom of a balance problem, along with lightheadedness, vertigo and blurred vision.
This slideshow about balance, dizziness and vertigo can help distinguish between the similar issues. Any noticeable changes in your perception of balance or arrival of vertigo symptoms should be talked about with a doctor to find the cause. Treatment of vertigo, dizziness or balance problem vary greatly depending on the underlying issue.
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