More than just a suspenseful Hitchcock movie, vertigo is a real sensation that feels as if you or your surroundings are spinning. Learn what you can do to ease its symptoms.
Vertigo is the sensation that either you or your surroundings are spinning, and is a symptom rather than a disease. This unpleasant feeling is associated with blurred vision, loss of balance, and nausea.
What causes vertigo?
The most common cause of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which results when small crystals of calcium carbonate settle in the ear canals after head injury or as part of the aging process. The inner ear may then mistakenly detect movement, resulting in the sensation of vertigo. BPPV usually causes short but intense vertigo episodes, which are triggered by movement of the head.
Vestibular neuritis, or inflammation in the inner ear, is another cause of vertigo. This balance disorder usually comes on suddenly and results in constant feelings of vertigo that are often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and loss of balance. Sometimes, vestibular neuritis causes hearing loss, resulting in a condition called labyrinthitis.
Ménière’s disease is a disorder caused by excessive fluid buildup in the ear. Along with vertigo, this condition causes ringing in the ears, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and hearing loss. Ménière’s disease usually only affects one ear, and symptoms generally occur in “attacks.”
Vertigo may also be caused by a neurological condition, such as a vestibular migraine or an acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous growth.
The good news is that most symptoms of vertigo will resolve within a few weeks. However, as vertigo can affect quality of life, a number of natural methods can be used to ease symptoms and promote faster recovery.
Vestibular rehabilitation involves doing different exercises and activities to help the brain realize that there is an issue with balance. This will eventually retrain the brain to compensate for the deficit in balance, diminishing both the intensity and frequency of the attacks. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this treatment doesn’t work immediately. Initially, the exercises may bring on more dizziness, but will diminish symptoms when regularly practised over a period of time.
Vestibular rehabilitation completed at home has been shown to be effective in decreasing vertigo in participants, regardless of sex and age.
Head manoeuvres in particular are recommended for individuals with BPPV, because the manoeuvres are designed to dislodge the tiny crystals in the semicircular canals. The Epley manoeuvre is frequently suggested; a 2005 study found that the Epley manoeuvre eased symptoms in 89 percent of individuals within a month, compared to improvement in only 10 percent of individuals receiving no treatment.
To perform the Epley manoeuvre
- Sit on a bed with your legs extended.
- Move your head to a 45-degree angle, so you are looking halfway between straight ahead and to the side.
- While maintaining this head position, lie down quickly so your head is hanging over the side of the bed. This will usually bring on the sensation of vertigo, and you’ll feel a more intense feeling on the side of the ear that is most affected.
- Remain lying down until the sensation passes, and then return to the starting position.
- Begin again once the vertigo has eased.
It is suggested to repeat the movement on each side three times per day. Your health care practitioner or a physical therapist specializing in vestibular rehabilitation will be able to show you how to correctly perform the manoeuvre.
Exercises for vertigo
A 2009 study found that tai chi significantly improved symptoms of vertigo in patients who had not had success with traditional vestibular rehabilitation. It is theorized that tai chi is beneficial because it helps improve balance and body awareness, aids in connecting the mind and body and promoting relaxation, and improves cardiovascular health. For the same reasons, mindfulness-based treatments such as meditation may also be beneficial in improving vertigo symptoms.
A recent study also found that using the Nintendo Wii Balance Board, a platform that senses movement to control a video game character, decreased symptoms of vertigo in participants with vestibular neuritis. The suspected reasoning is that, in addition to promoting movement, using this video game system provides visual feedback that helps the brain to orientate itself faster.
There is plenty of evidence to suggest that consuming a diet low in sodium and caffeine helps to ease vertigo symptoms, especially those caused by Ménière’s disease.
Kim Stinson-Burt, registered dietitian at Nutritionally Your Best based in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, explains that “vertigo is caused by fluid fluctuations in the inner ear. If the body is holding on to extra fluid, which is what happens when one consumes too much salt, then more fluid is going to be in all areas of the body, including the inner ear, than is necessary.”
Other ways to maintain fluid balance are to drink plenty of water and abstain from alcohol. Some individuals also report that reducing sugar intake helps reduce vertigo symptoms.
In addition, Stinson-Burt says that many people find ginger helpful, particularly in the form of ginger tea. She also points out that some individuals find magnesium to be helpful in easing symptoms. Magnesium is available in supplement form as well as in “high-magnesium foods, such as dark chocolate, beans, and nuts and seeds.”
There has also been some evidence that suggests Ginkgo biloba improves vertigo symptoms. Contact your health care practitioner before starting this herbal supplement, however, as it may interfere with certain medications.
Practical tips to ease vertigo
The symptoms of vertigo can make certain activities, such as shopping and eating out, unpleasant and overwhelming. However, a number of strategies can be taken to improve vertigo symptoms in daily life.
- Wear sunglasses to reduce glare and vertigo caused by bright light.
- Use a cane when walking or ask someone to come with you to ease fears about falling.
- Avoid visual distractions, such as ceiling fans and busy-patterned carpets.
- Reduce audio distractions, using noise-blocking headphones if necessary.
- Sit or stand across from the person to whom you are talking to prevent head movements.
- Take time daily to relax.