Vertigo is a condition affecting the vestibular system, which helps the body control balance and sense its position in space. The structures of the vestibular system are housed in the inner ear.
The Vestibular System
The vestibular system helps to provide the body with information about its movement and location in space. The processes involved is collectively called “proprioceptive feedback,” and it helps us to maintain a sense of balance and an upright posture.
The inner ear contains these vestibular structures:
- The semicircular canals detect rotational movement and are aligned along three different angles to pick up any change in positioning.
- The vestibule (the central chamber from which the semicircular canals extend) contains organs that sense linear acceleration, or backward-forward movement. All the organs of the vestibular system rely on the movement of fluid. When your head moves in space, it moves the fluid in the vestibular structures.
- This fluid activate cells with tiny hair-like extensions called cilia, which trigger nerve impulses to the brain.
How Does Vertigo Affect the Vestibular System?
Vertigo occurs when the vestibular structures in the inner ear are disturbed or malfunctioning. Vertigo itself is rarely dangerous, but risks increase when vertigo is severe enough to cause falls. Vertigo symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Loss of balance
- Strong sense that your surroundings are spinning.
What Causes Vertigo?
Several conditions can cause vertigo symptoms:
- An inner ear infection called labyrinthitis can cause vertigo.
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a benign condition and a common cause of vertigo. It involves short periods of intense dizziness caused by moving your head, lying down or standing up. This benign vertigo occurs when small crystals in the vestibule of the inner ear become dislodged and signal movement incorrectly, causing a feeling of dizziness.
- Meniere’s disease is a rare disease affecting the inner ear that can lead to hearing and vestibular problems, including vertigo, as well as tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Vestibular migraine refers to a migraine headache that also presents with vertigo.
- Vestibular neuritis is inflammation of vestibular nerve cells that can be caused by infection.
Treatment for vertigo depends on the underlying cause. Benign positional vertigo can be treated with a positional maneuver to re-balance the vestibular system. Inner ear infection can be treated with antibiotics, and vestibular migraine can be treated with drugs or lifestyle changes. Other forms of vertigo, including Meniere’s disease (which has no cure), are more difficult to treat. Your doctor can assist in finding underlying vertigo causes in order to prescribe a proper course of treatment.
Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/vertigo/DS00534.
Vestibular Disorders Association (n.d.). Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Vestibular Disorders Association Web site: http://www.vestibular.org/vestibular-disorders/specific-disorders/bppv.php.
Vestibular Disorders Association (n.d.). Vestibular migraine. Retrieved February 17, 2010, from Vestibular Disorders Association Web site: http://www.vestibular.org/vestibular-disorders/specific-disorders/vestibular-migraine.php.