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Vertigo, that feeling that the room is spinning or that you’re off balance, can be frightening to say the least! But you can take comfort in knowing that vertigo is common and most cases are easily diagnosed and treated.
“It’s important to remember that vertigo is a symptom, not a diagnosis,” said Jonella Black, Vestibular Rehabilitation at NorthShore. “Many things can cause it so it’s important to get the accurate diagnosis for the type you have.”
Start by seeing a primary care physician who can refer you to the appropriate specialist, if necessary. And remember that dizziness is a feeling of light-headedness while vertigo is the feeling that the room is spinning or you’re spinning in it, Black said. Make sure you explain your symptoms in detail to your physician.
One of the more common causes of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, which occurs when the tiny calcium carbonate crystals of your inner ear degenerate and break into microscopic pieces. The inner ear is filled with fluid, so when these pieces float into the semi-circular canals of the inner ear, they signal your body that you’re moving super-fast, when in reality, you’re not.
This type of vertigo occurs often in older adults because the protein covering that coats the crystals and holds them in place, weakens with age.
Black said treatment with her team of physical therapists involves repositioning the crystals, and it can be effective fairly quickly. First, the physical therapist needs to find out which ear canal is involved. Since the crystals are microscopic, the physical therapist looks into your eyes, using them as a window to the inner ear.
“We watch the eyes for a certain abnormal movement when the crystals are moving,” Black explained. “This tells us which ear is involved.”
There are several repositioning maneuvers that involve turning your head and body while you’re lying on your back, side and stomach. The process can generally take 15 to 20 minutes. Gravity allows the crystals that have shifted to float back into place where they are absorbed.