Vertigo (VER-ti-go) is dizziness that causes people to feel that they or their surroundings are moving, often causing loss of balance.
Vertigo is different from other forms of dizziness because it is caused by disturbances in the structures that control the sense of balance. These structures include the vestibule and semicircular canals in the ear, the vestibular (ves-TIB-u-lar) nuclei in the brain stem * , and the eyes. There are many different kinds of vertigo.
Benign * paroxysmal (pair-ruck-SIZ-mul) vertigo is a condition that sometimes affects toddlers, who may suddenly lose their balance, roll their eyes, and become pale, dizzy, or nauseated for a few minutes. They usually recover quickly and often outgrow this form of vertigo.
Positional vertigo may occur following changes in head position, especially when lying on one ear or when tipping back the head to look up. The symptoms tend to appear in clusters that last for several days. The vertigo begins several seconds after head movement and usually stops in under a minute. Some of the causes of positional vertigo are trauma to the ear, an ear infection, ear surgery, or degeneration due to aging inner ear organs that are involved in balance. Surgery can sometimes correct positional vertigo.
Sometimes called Ménière's syndrome or recurrent aural vertigo, Ménière's disease is caused by damage to the balance organs in the ears, although doctors often do not know the cause of the damage. In addition to vertigo, symptoms are likely to include tinnitus (ti-NY-tis), which is a ringing, buzzing, or roaring in the ears. It may also cause gradual deafness in the affected ear. Ménière's disease can be controlled with medication, but it cannot be cured.
Labyrinthitis (lab-uh-rin-THY-tus) is an inflammation of the labyrinth in the inner ear, possibly as a result of viral infection in the upper respiratory tract. The labyrinth is a group of canals in the inner ear that is important for balance. Symptoms of labyrinthitis are sudden onset of severe vertigo lasting for several days, hearing loss, and tinnitus in the affected ear. During the recovery period, which may last several weeks, rapid head movement causes temporary vertigo.
Vestibular neuronitis (noo-ro-NITE-us) is sometimes called epidemic vertigo and is thought to be the result of a virus that causes inflammation of the vestibular nerve cells. Vestibular neuronitis usually causes a single attack of severe vertigo with nausea and vomiting that lasts for a few days. There is no hearing loss or tinnitus, and doctors often prescribe medication to help with the dizziness and nausea.
Traumatic vertigo is one of the most common types of vertigo. It usually follows a head injury. The symptoms generally start to improve within several days but may last for weeks. Deafness often accompanies the vertigo on the side of the head that received the trauma. In some cases, surgery may be required to correct damage to the ear structures.
Acoustic neuromas are benign tumors that form in the vestibular nerve, affecting nerve signals for balance and hearing from the ear to the brain. Symptoms are hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness, and unsteadiness. Surgery to remove the tumor improves the vertigo.
In order to diagnose vertigo, a doctor will carry out a physical examination to check for signs of conditions that could be causing the vertigo. Additional tests may be required to check hearing and balance. Doctors often prescribe medication to reduce the dizziness, nausea, and sense of motion of vertigo. Other treatments vary according to the cause of the vertigo.
See also Deafness and Hearing Loss • Ear Disorders: Overview • Motion Sickness • Tinnitus
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* brain stem is the part of the brain that connects to the spinal cord. The brain stem controls the basic functions of life, such as breathing and blood pressure.
* benign (beh-NINE) refers to a condition that is not cancerous or serious and will probably improve, go away, or not get worse.