The inner ear serves two purposes: hearing and balance. There are mechanisms in the ear that inform the brain about your position, orientation in space and movement and all times to keep you in balance. A false sensation of spinning or whirling, known as vertigo, can occur when the signal to the brain is blocked or misfires. In addition to the sensation of dizziness, symptoms may include headache, nausea, sensitivity to bright light, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, ear pain, facial numbness, eye pain, motion sickness, confused thinking, fainting and clumsiness.
Dizziness can also be a symptom of a more serious medical problem, such as high or low blood pressure, heart problems, stroke, tumor, medication side effect or metabolic disorders. Therefore you should always seek medical attention if you experience ongoing or repetitive dizziness.
Common Causes of Dizziness
An Acoustic Neuroma is a benign growth on the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain. An MRI is ordered to diagnose this tumor, especially if the hearing is asymmetric between the ears.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)
BPPV occurs when tiny calcium crystals in the ears loosen and begin moving about the wrong part of the ear. It is characterized by sudden, short bursts of dizziness that happen most often as a result of head movement. There is no known cause for BPPV. It usually resolves itself in a matter of days, but can also be improved by an Epley Maneuver (a repositioning) that your doctor can do in the office.
Inflammation of the Inner Ear
Dizziness may be one symptom of an inner ear infection. Typically this is due to a viral upper respiratory infection (viral neuritis) and can sometimes also affect hearing (labyrinthitis). Sometimes steroids are prescribed to decrease the inflammation which should then improve the symptoms of dizziness and/or hearing loss.
Meniere’s Disease is characterized by long periods of dizziness, lasting from 30 to 60 minutes or more. It is accompanied by symptoms such as ringing in the ears, hearing loss and a feeling of fullness in the ear. There is no known cause or cure for Meniere’s Disease, although medication and behavior changes can help reduce the severity of the symptoms.
Some migraines (vestibular migraines) can cause a feeling of imbalance and vertigo. This may be accompanied by sensitivity to light and/or sound, ringing in the ears or hearing loss. Migraine-related vertigo may occur in conjunction with or separate from the migraine headache.
If you’re experiencing any form of repetitive or chronic dizziness, please contact our office and schedule an appointment with one of our Otolaryngologists.