Vertigo is a sensation of spinning or whirling where the subject feels a definite sensation of rotation. Dizziness is more of an imprecise term used to describe symptoms such as faintness, vertigo, disequilibrium, floating sensation, or unsteadiness. Because there are many conditions that can cause these symptoms, the proper course of treatment is dependent on an accurate diagnosis.
Your sense of balance is maintained by a complex interaction of the following parts of the nervous system:
- The inner ear (labyrinth) monitors the direction of movements such as turning, rolling, side-to-side, and up-and-down.
- The eyes monitor where the body is in space, which direction we are moving, and work with input from the inner ear to maintain stable vision.
- Proprioception is the way the body uses information from the muscles and joints to tell us which part of the body is touching the ground.
- The central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) processes all the information from the other systems to maintain balance and equilibrium.
A properly functioning vestibular system helps you to see clearly, know which way is up, know how fast you are moving, and how to make postural changes on uneven surfaces. The symptoms of motion sickness, vertigo, and/or imbalance appear when the central nervous system receives conflicting messages from the other systems.
There are many types of vestibular disorders. Some of these disorders include poor circulation, neurological diseases, Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV), infections such as labyrinthitis and neuritis, head trauma, migraine associated vertigo, Meniere’s disease, perilymph fistula, superior canal dehiscence, migraine, allergy and age-related dizziness and imbalance.
When you seek medical attention for a vestibular disorder you will be asked to describe your symptoms and answer questions about your general health. An ENT physician will exam your ears, nose, and throat. Routine testing may be performed to check your blood pressure, nerve and balance function, and hearing. Possible additional tests may include a special test of eye motion after warm and cold aid stimulate the inner ear (VNG – videonystagmography), CT or MRI scans of the head, blood tests or a cardiology work-up. Your physician will determine the best treatment based on your symptoms and the cause. Treatments may include balance exercises and medications.
When to seek medical attention for dizziness/vertigo/imbalance:
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if you experience:
- Dizziness after head injury
- Fever over 101°, headache, or very stiff neck
- Convulsions or ongoing vomiting
- Chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, a severe headache, inability to move an arm or leg, change in vision or speech, or
- Fainting and/or loss of consciousness
Consult your ENT physician if you:
- Have never experienced dizziness before
- Experience a difference in symptoms you have had in the past
- Suspect that a medication is causing your symptom, or
- Experiencing hearing loss