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?

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