July 18, 2011

Vertigo: Research, Remedies, and Ramblings

Image swiped from here.

If you are a youngish person, you may be wondering: Seriously? A whole post on vertigo? Isn't that one of those obscure old-fashioned medical complaints like vapors or consumption that modern healthy types don't have to worry about?

However, if you are a middle-aged female, you may be more familiar with the phenomenon of vertigo. Several good friends of mine have had recent bouts that lasted for days or weeks and the experience sounded pretty darn miserable.   Research on vertigo demographics backs up my hunch: sufferers tend to be over 40, with average onset in the mid-fifties.  Women (lucky us!) are twice as likely to wake up one morning and find the whole freakin' world spinning around for no apparent reason.

The most common kind of vertigo has a fancy name:  "Benign Positional Vertigo." Or if it only last for a few seconds or minutes at a time, it's even fancier: "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Disorder," also known as BPPD. Benign Positional Vertigo is to be distinguished from other vertiginous varieties, such as "Drunk Off Your Ass Vertigo," "Oh Crap Looks Like I'm Having a Stroke Vertigo," or "What on Earth Was I Thinking Getting on The Damn Tilt-A-Whirl Ride At My Age Vertigo."

So, wanna know how you end up with vertigo, or more importantly, how to get rid of it? Here's your Half-Assed Cranky Fitness Guide!

1. Symptoms of Vertigo

It's not just regular stand-up-too-fast dizziness; your first clue that you've got vertigo is that your surroundings are suddenly spinning around.  Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, loss of balance and nystagmus.  Nystagmus sounds kind of disgusting doesn't it? Or maybe it's just me who imagined it must mean "particularly nasty, gummy mucus." But no, nystagmus just means involuntary eye movements, which are due to your poor bewildered brain trying to make sense of the suddenly screwed up universe it is now inhabiting.

2. What else besides vertigo might make the room spin?

Have you been pounding tequila shots recently? Then it's probably not vertigo that's causing the problem.

Do you have weakness or numbness of one side of the body, loss of vision, or difficulty with speech? Then stop reading Cranky Fitness, doofus!  Call 911 instead; you may be having a stroke!

Do you have a side of fever with your room-spinning main course?  Could be an infection.  But watch out: fever with a stiff neck or sensitivity to light could be something serious, like meningitis or perhaps a space alien spore hatching inside you getting ready to burst out of your stomach. Go see your doctor.

There are also other conditions that can resemble vertigo, like labyrinthitis, Ménière's disease, or migraine. So during your exam, your doctor may perform a Dix-Hallpike. Do not be alarmed: though it sounds like a tricky Olympic high-dive, the Dix-Hallpike is just a movement test used to confirm a diagnosis of BPPV.  Your doctor checks to see if your eyes do that creepy nystagmus thing in certain positions.

3.   What causes Vertigo?

Sneaky little crystals in your ears break loose and do something unseemly down in the mysterious depths of your inner ear.  This can happen from a head injury, from rapid or repetitive head movement, infections, medication side effects, nervous system disorders, ear surgery, alcoholism, or most often, for no good reason whatsoever.  It can be made worse by lack of sleep, stress, dehydration, and changes in barometric pressure. For a more coherent explanation you obviously need to go elsewhere-- like to this illustrated explanation of vertigo causes.

4. What should you do when you first notice the room spinning?

Lie down if you can, with your head slightly raised.  Drink lots of water.  The more you can avoid moving your head around, the better. Don't drive, you may kill someone.  No tight-rope walking between skyscrapers either.

5. How do you treat vertigo?

Interestingly enough, one of the best ways to get rid of vertigo is to remove the offending ear crystals via a series of weird head contortions.  There are different kinds: Semont  and Epley maneuvers, which your doctor or physiotherapist my do on you in their office, or Brandt-Daroff Exercises which you can do at home.  One source implied that these are a pain in the ass but effective.

As to pharmaceutical vertigo remedies, one idea is to try motion sickness medications. Or, there is a surgical procedure called "posterior canal plugging" (insert your own off-color gay porn joke here). The procedure is often effective, but the downside is a 20% chance of hearing loss.

6. Where can I find a less ridiculous guide to vertigo?

If you prefer a more informative approach with absolutely no untoward references to gay porn, you can check out the Healthline article on Benign Positional Vertigo, or the eMedicineHealth vertigo article
In addition, Medline Plus has a big honking list of dizziness and vertigo references and resources, or you could check out the Vestibular Disorders Association or even good ol' wikipedia!

So, anyone out there ever had vertigo or know someone who has? Or ever done tequila shots? Or hey, how's your Monday?


  1. Crabby, thanks for this. I've had random moments of vertigo in the past few years. Good to know it has a name, and good to know I'm not just a dizzy ol' broad.

  2. Leah, well, I'm a dizzy ol' broad myself and I say we embrace it!

    I had a couple weird hours of room-spinning about 6 months ago; I consulted Dr. Google and self-diagnosed myself with vertigo, but fortunately it hasn't returned. Hope yours disappears as well!

  3. My vertigo has been of the Meniere's variety. Luckily, episodes have been infreguent, but knock me flat when they happen.

  4. Sorry to hear that Elaine!

    That seems like a particularly sucky kind of vertigo to have. Sure hope it doesn't come back.

  5. Oops, wrong id again! J Graham=Crabby.

  6. A good friend sent me this link because I've struggled w/vertigo for MONTHS now. There are some funny times w/it so I definitely appreciated your humor w/it. It sucks sucks sucks so if you don't laugh you'll cry!! :) for me it happens again (first bout lasted about 6-8 weeks) if I'm overtired and second row @Harry Potter was not good! Love when doctor says it'll be forever. Sorry

  7. The only long-time vertigo sufferers I've known have all been male: my father, my mother's brother, and one of my father's uncles. None, absolutely none, of my female relatives have ever had it. (Just to nudge the statistics a bit.)

    When I've had vertigo it's been because of an ear infection, so it went away quickly.
    With migraines? How would I know if the room's spinning when I can't see anything through the floaty gray squares?

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  8. All I know about Vertigo is that Jimmy Stewart had it and it caused him to fall in love with Kim Novak and climb church towers so that he could look down and think he was killing mysterious blonds.
    Funny how that case never comes up in medical journals.

  9. Now that I think of it, wasn't Jimmy Stewart's vertigo caused by looking over the edge of tall buildings rather than inner ear issues? I always knew that movie was in its own reality. I mean, did you ever watch it? Ever time Jimmy Stewart tailed someone across San Francisco, he always found a parking place right in front of the place he wanted to be.
    The physical version of the disorder sounds a lot less easy to deal with.

  10. Yikes, soccer mom, 2nd row for Harry Potter would be enough to give someone vertigo who never had it before, don't know how you survived!

    Mary Anne, floaty gray squares? Hadn't heard of that kind of aura before--leave it to you to be creative!

    And good point Merry! I haven't seen ONE medical journal listing "the ability to find parking places anywhere in San Francisco" as a side effect of vertigo.

  11. About two years ago, I had an experience with vertigo!

    "I had an emergency at the hospital! The good news was, the patient fully recovered from the emergency. The bad new was, I was the patient!

    I was in to see my buddy the ENT doctor to have my plugged ears cleaned. He assigned a very nice nurse assistant to take care of me. It was all going quite well, as she flushed out my left ear, and it felt so good to hear at 100 percent again.

    The right ear proved to be a bit troublesome as I had had an infection as a teenager that caused some scarring of the internal ear. After some serious curetting and continuous washing, it finally gave up all the bad stuff and cleared.

    All of a sudden, the wonderful medical illustrations that decorated the walls of the operatory started gyrating and moving back and forth like windshield wipers, and the room was doing barrel rolls. The problem was caused by the length of the procedure and the too-cool temperature of the irrigation fluid. My whole vestibular apparatus was shook up worse than spinning and looping the Arrow.

    In charge of your own emergency
    I told the personnel of my distress, and one started yelling Emergency!

    “Don’t call an emergency,” I said. “I’ll be all right.“ I had visions of the code blue team coming like the kickoff at a football game.

    “I have to Dr. J, or I’ll get in trouble,” she said.

    “OK.” At that point she ran out the door yelling the E word! I told the remaining observer (a volunteer high school student) to lean my chair back and started taking my own pulse.

    “Not up, back!”

    “Oh, sorry!”

    “That’s better.” I explained what was happening. “Caloric induced vertigo.”

    Well at this point, the room was still spinning, but my pulse was all right, and I wasn’t any worse, which I figured was progress. I had known this is a possible complication when your ears are worked on, so intellectually I was reassured, but the feelings are very disorienting.

    By now, more people had shown up. One even had a white coat on with a stethoscope around her neck, a physician’s assistant. She took my hand off my radial wrist pulse, and began taking it herself. I was hoping that she had already taken her own pulse on the way there.

    The observer said: “You’ll be OK, now we have someone with a white coat.” Good sense of humor, that boy.
    “I have a whole closet full of white coats!” was my reply.

    “None of you are doctors, are you?”


    Someone put a damp cloth on my forehead at this point. The cloth felt wet and hot. I don’t think it is on the list of rules for treating my problem. I took it off. Well, I figured my closet full of white coats outranked their one, so I just stayed in charge until I felt better. After all, there was no way of knowing if any of them had read the book.

    About this time, my buddy the ENT doctor showed up. I told him about the vertigo and that I was OK now and he said he had a meeting to go to and left.

    Perhaps a new law can be added to the list. ”If you are the only qualified doctor at an emergency, take immediate charge of the situation!”

    Really, of the 13 laws, my favorite from The House of God is “The delivery of good medical care is to do as much nothing as possible.”

    I hope all your medical care providers follow that law! Mine did!"

    Sorry for the long comment :-)

  12. That's hilarious, Dr. J--glad it didn't turn out to be serious, or you might have had to operate on yourself!

    And we LOVE long comments at Cranky Fitness!

  13. Great info to keep handy, and loved that story from Dr. J!

  14. Vertigo seems to be making the rounds here, but so far I've missed it. (I'm still too young she swears!) I do get those stupid light headed fireflies-in-my-vision spells when I don't eat well and over do my physical exertions. An apple usually cures that though. :)

  15. I have had the unpleasant experience. For awhile I was getting on waking...I would move my head to get up and the world went whirly.

    Doctor thought it might be Ménière's disease and wanted to give me some meds, I said I would wait and see. It went away, just like that.

    I do have a couple of friends who suffer from vertigo all the time. Boo to that!

    Umm...yes, I have done tequila shots...a long, long time ago.

    Monday was sweet as I was off work!

  16. JEEZ! I have had enough sh*t happen after 47 to now & now maybe I might get vertigo in my mid 50's. Can they screw us women over any more!!! No wonder we need tequila shots or my case, one of those umbrella drinks! ;-)

  17. My mom had this several years ago. She puked all the way to the ER. The Dr. tried to re-position the crystals, kinda helped. We had never heard of this, and my mom is a nurse. Then the Dr. had great news, once you've had this, you're more likely to get it again. He also said to be careful after dentist visits and hair salon sinks.
    After this I had two friends get vertigo. One friend has had it several times. So far I have dodged the dislodged crystals. Lucky me.

  18. Fascinating post about vertigo. I wonder if anyone has considered why women tend to be more likely to experience vertigo?

  19. Great information! I’ve heard about this kind of symptoms but didn’t know what it called. Thanks for sharing.

  20. I was diagnosed with Meniere's this past December. Over the years I have dealt with vertigo several times but nothing too serious. In November when my ear starting feeling stopped up, I just thought I had wax build up - no dizziness at the time. It never got better, so I was sent to an ENT to check things out. After I talked about having vertigo in the past, he tested my eyes (bizarre thing) and sure enough, Meniere's. Afterwards, my symptoms progressed to include stuffed ear, vertigo, and humming in my ear. I recently started physical therapy which has adjusted my crystals more completely than the ENT was able to do, and the eye and balance exercises have really made a difference. Everytime I laid down, rolled over, or looked up at the ceiling I had vertigo attacks that would last several minutes at a time over the 6 months since my diagnosis. Since starting physical therapy last month my vertigo attacks have stopped. I do feel light headed occasional but otherwise am doing much better.

  21. Hey thanks all for sharing first hand experiences! Sounds like those sneaky little crystals can cause a lot of misery. Hope the clever scientists invent some easy permanent cure ASAP!

  22. I have just recentley (october 2012) experienced speratic dizzyness not sure if it was vertigo or not. Er docto told me it was caused from water being in my ear. Went to check in with my primary care doctor and he thinks its allergys.i have scheduled an apointment with a nose throat and ear doctor so I can get an actualy answer from someone who knows what they are talking about. I havent been dizzy
    Really bad since october. I hope it has cleared and dont have to deal with it again. Never had problems with my ears before guess theres a first time for everything.lol...if nothing else I am grateful for it not being constant, prayers for those who suffer with this co.stantley.

  23. I was diagnosed with vertigo just this morning.Dr gave me some "anti dizzy" pills so we'll see how those work. I'm 37 and female.
    I had myself spinning in the room like I was on the Disneyland teacups! My eyes also did the shaking thing.

  24. I have vertigo when I first wake up, but if i move around and eat it goes away. Is that normal? It only last maybe 4 or 5 minutes.

  25. Im having it now. Im 54 year old male, very healrhy and athletic but overworked for sure; Id rather have a broken ankle. No, seriously. This is hell makes me want to vomit and/or curl up and die. No escape.


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