Dizziness

What Is Dizziness?

Some people describe a balance problem by saying they feel dizzy, lightheaded, unsteady, or giddy. This feeling of imbalance or dysequilibrium, without a sensation of turning or spinning, is sometimes due to an inner ear problem.

What Is Vertigo?

Vertigo is a form of dizziness that is defined as a feeling of the hallucination of movement. The word vertigo comes from the Latin verb "to turn". Patients that experience vertigo often say that they, or their surroundings, are turning or spinning. Vertigo is frequently due to an inner ear problem.

What Medical Conditions Cause Dizziness?

Circulation: If your brain does not get enough blood flow, you feel light headed. Almost everyone has experienced this on occasion when standing up quickly from a lying down position. But some people have light headedness from poor circulation on a frequent or chronic basis. This could be caused by arteriosclerosis or hardening of the arteries, and it is commonly seen in patients who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high levels of blood fats (cholesterol). It is sometimes seen in patients with inadequate cardiac (heart) function or with anemia (low blood count).

Certain drugs also decrease the blood flow to the brain, especially stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine. Excess salt in the diet also leads to poor circulation. Sometimes circulation is impaired by spasms in the arteries caused by emotional stress, anxiety, and tension.

If the inner ear fails to receive enough blood flow, vertigo may occur. The inner ear is very sensitive to minor alterations of blood flow and all of the causes mentioned for poor circulation to the brain also apply specifically to the inner ear.

Injury: A skull fracture that damages the inner ear produces a profound and incapacitating vertigo with nausea and hearing loss. The dizziness will last for several weeks, then slowly improve as the normal (other) side takes over.

Infection: Viruses, such as those causing the common "cold" or "flu," can attack the inner ear and its nerve connections to the brain. This can result in severe vertigo, but hearing is usually spared. However, a bacterial infection such as mastoiditis that extends into the inner ear will completely destroy both the hearing and the equilibrium function of that ear.

Allergy: Some people experience dizziness and/or vertigo attacks when they are exposed to foods or airborne particles (such as dust, molds, pollens, danders, etc.) to which they are allergic.

Neurological diseases: A number of diseases of the nerves can affect balance, such as multiple sclerosis, syphilis, tumors, etc. These conditions are uncommonn causes of dizziness.

What Will the Physician Do for My Dizziness?

The physician will ask you to describe your feeling of dizziness, how long and how often the dizziness has troubled you, how long a dizzy episode lasts, and whether it is associated with hearing loss or nausea and vomiting. You might be asked for circumstances that might bring on a dizzy spell. You will need to answer questions about your general health, any medicines you are taking, head injuries, recent infections, and other questions about your ear and neurological system.

Your physician will examine your ears, nose, and throat and do tests of nerve and balance function. Because the inner ear controls both balance and hearing, disorders of balance often affect hearing and vice versa. Therefore, your physician will probably recommend hearing tests (audiograms). The physician might order a CT or MRI scan of your head, or special tests of eye motion after warm or cold water is used to stimulate the inner ear (ENG - electronystagmography). In some cases, blood tests or a cardiology (heart) evaluation might be recommended.

Not every patient will require every test. The physician's judgement will be based on each particular patient. Similarly, the treatments recommended by your physician will depend on the diagnosis.

Remember: Most cases of dizziness are mild and self-treatable disorders. But, severe cases and those that become progressively worse, deserve the attention of a physician with specialized skills in diseases of the ear, equilibrium, and neurological systems.