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Vertigo, or the feeling that your environment is spinning even when you’re not moving, is a symptom of another health condition. Nearly 50% of adults will experience this sensation at some point in their lives. Some people have short-lived symptoms that last a few seconds while people with severe vertigo may experience symptoms for days, weeks or even months. 


What are the symptoms of vertigo?

Vertigo is a feeling of motion while you’re still or a sensation of movement when you move your head in a normal motion. 

Vertigo symptoms may include: 

  • A feeling of motion while standing, sitting or lying still
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Headaches
  • Motion sickness
  • Nausea
  • Nystagmus or uncontrolled side-to-side eye movements
  • Tinnitus or ringing in the ears


Is vertigo the same as dizziness?

Both dizziness and vertigo can be related to balance problems, but the symptoms differ. Dizziness feels like you’re unbalanced or unsteady. Vertigo feels like you’re moving or spinning when you’re actually not.  


What causes vertigo?

Vertigo is caused by another health condition that impacts the inner ear. It can also be caused by problems in the brain and occasionally stress.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is the most common cause of vertigo. It occurs when you move your head in a specific way, such as when lying down, sitting up or turning over in bed. 

BPPV occurs when tiny calcium deposits break off from the lining of your inner ear and end up in your ear’s fluid-filled canal. When your head is still, the fragments remain at the bottom of the canal. When you move your head, the fragments move inside the canal. This sends a confusing message to your brain, causing vertigo. 

Other causes of vertigo may include:

  • Acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous tumor in the inner ear
  • Ataxia or muscle weakness
  • Brain tumors
  • Cholesteatoma, a noncancerous skin growth in the middle ear
  • Head injury or trauma
  • Infection of the inner ear labyrinth 
  • Inflammation of the vestibular nerve 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Meniere’s disease that causes fluid buildup inside the ear
  • Migraine headaches
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Some types of medication


How is vertigo diagnosed?

In many cases, vertigo will go away on its own. Consult a doctor if symptoms don’t improve. Doctors diagnose vertigo by asking questions and performing simple tests.

Your doctor will want to know: 

  • Details about your first episode of vertigo 
  • Duration of symptoms 
  • How symptoms impact your daily activities
  • Other symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus, nausea, vomiting or fullness in the ear
  • Triggers that exacerbate symptoms 
  • What makes symptoms better 

Your health care provider will also perform a physical examination and tests to identify the source of the issue. These may include: 

Fukuda-Unterberger’s test. You’ll march in place for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. If you lean to one side then it could indicate a problem with your inner ear labyrinth. 

Romberg’s test. You’ll close your eyes and stand with your feet together and arms to your sides. If you feel unbalanced or unsteady then you could have a central nervous system issue.

Head impulse test. Your doctor will gently move your head to each side while you focus on a stationary object. The test helps your doctor check the function of your inner ear balance system.

Your doctor may also refer you for a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.


How is vertigo treated?

Medications to treat the underlying cause may reduce vertigo symptoms. Surgery is sometimes necessary to treat a brain tumor or neck injury. 

A special type of physical therapy called vestibular therapy can also help reduce symptoms caused by inner ear problems. During vestibular therapy, you may participate in several tests to help identify the issue. Specialized goggles monitor eye motion responses during certain movements to identify a root cause. You may also have various therapies designed to reduce vertigo symptoms. 

One of the most common is a canalith repositioning procedure (CRP). This therapy helps move calcium fragments out of the fluid-filled ear canal and into the inner ear where they will be absorbed by your body. The procedures involve a series of head and body movements designed to remove the fragments from the ear canal. It’s noninvasive and often provides immediate results.


Vestibular therapy services at Catholic Health

At locations across Long Island, Catholic Health's vestibular therapists are trained in specific techniques and work with the most advanced technologies for vestibular therapy. They create a customized treatment plan to help improve your physical and emotional health.

Learn more about vestibular therapy services at Catholic Health.

Call 866-MY-LI-DOC (866-695-4362) to find a Catholic Health physician near you.

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