Don’t Let Dizziness Throw Off Your Life’s Balance
Dizziness or loss of balance, sometimes referred to as vertigo, is the second most common complaint that doctors hear. According to the National Institutes of Health, balance issues will occur in 70 percent of Americans at some point in their lives. Whether it’s fleeting or chronic may indicate how serious the potential health risks are to you as an individual.
Equilibrium disorders typically fall into two categories:
- Acute attacks of dizziness, vertigo, or a general loss of balance that may last a few seconds or a few hours
- A persistent sense of imbalance, unsteadiness, or what some people refer to as a loss of sure-footedness
Why Am I Losing My Balance?
To help balance your body, your brain requires input from three senses — your inner ear, your eyes, and your felt sense of your body — to determine where it is in relation to other objects. Your brain uses this information to determine what movements your body should make based on what’s going on around you. If any one of the several parts of this complicated system does not work properly, a loss of sure-footedness or problems with movement coordination can result.
The natural aging process may affect these three senses. Aging can also affect how quickly your central nervous system interprets and reacts to sensory input. A common complaint among balance patients is that they saw a curb or step but couldn’t react quickly enough to keep their balance. Although a balance problem might make you feel helpless, there’s plenty of hope. Current diagnosis and treatment options make balance issues a much easier problem to resolve than in years past.
Could It Be Vertigo?
Dizziness, vertigo, and a general sense of imbalance might seem like three ways to describe the same feeling, but they have different meanings. If you can describe what you’re feeling accurately, it greatly increases your chances of a successful diagnosis.
- Dizziness. When you feel lightheaded, faint, or unsteady.
- General sense of imbalance. Also called disequilibrium, it simply means unsteadiness or imbalance. There is often a sense of spatial disorientation.
- Vertigo. When you feel that you or the objects around you are moving. It often has a rotational or spinning quality.
About 40 percent of the population will experience vertigo at least once. It doesn’t hurt, but the symptoms can lead to fatigue, struggles at work, depression, or even difficulty walking, which could lead to sudden falls and injury.
Identifying your symptoms will help us identify the specific causes of your vertigo. Generally, vertigo occurs as a result of a disturbance in the inner ear.
Vertigo after sudden head movement
This is the most common type of vertigo, known as BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo). It occurs when tiny crystals in your inner ear break off and float freely in the fluid of your inner ear. Other symptoms include reduced brainpower and hearing loss. Common causes of BPPV include head injury, infection, and inner-ear degeneration. It is treated through specific therapeutic head movements that allow the crystal to settle back where it’s supposed to be.
Vertigo with ear pressure or ringing in the ears
This is an inner-ear disorder caused by excess fluid and changing pressure in the inner ear. It’s called Ménière’s disease, and it typically affects only one ear. The sudden vertigo is often preceded by muffled hearing, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing or humming in the ear), or a feeling of fullness in the ear. There is no cure, but medication and lifestyle adjustments often alleviate symptoms.
Vertigo with vision or hearing problems after a virus
This is known as vestibular neuritis. It results when a viral inner-ear infection causes inflammation of nerves that are crucial for balance. The infection takes hold suddenly and can occur at any time. Treatment involves healing the infected area with antibiotics, steroids, or antiviral drugs while relieving nausea and dizziness.
Vertigo because of medication or chemicals
Medications or chemicals that damage the inner ear are called ototoxic. High doses or long-term use of certain antibiotics, antidepressants, pain relievers, and medications can lead to vertigo. Other symptoms include blurred or bouncing vision, headaches, fatigue, and nausea. Treatment usually involves restoring balance until you process the chemicals and pass them out of your body.
Facts About Dizziness and Balance
- Loss of balance will affect 90 million Americans at some point during their lives.
- More than 9 million people each year consult their physicians to find solutions to their dizziness, which is the top complaint for individuals over age 70.
- Balance-related falls account for more than half of all accidental deaths in the elderly population, and they cause more than 300,000 hip fractures each year in individuals over age 65.
- Some inner-ear disorders, like Ménière’s disease or benign positional vertigo, have symptoms that are virtually indistinguishable to most people. These disorders are often misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis and clinical depression because of how they affect one’s ability to stand, walk, see clearly, think clearly, read, watch television, and make decisions.
- Children with treatable balance disorders are sometimes incorrectly diagnosed as learning disabled, dyslexic, or psychologically disturbed.
- Head trauma and whiplash are frequent causes of dizziness.
- Ear infections can also cause vestibular disorders.