Is It Vertigo or Dizziness?

Vertigo and dizziness are the number one reason why people over the age of 65 visit their family doctor. There are many reasons for dizziness and people often have a difficult time describing their symptoms as people experience it in so many ways. Vertigo and dizziness can significantly affect your life. It becomes difficult to complete the basic daily tasks of showering, dressing, making meals and sometimes it is impossible to go to work. You must deal with a constant unbalanced feeling, nausea and trying to maintain day to day life. It can become overwhelming to try to get through your day with the symptoms.

Dizziness is a general term that can mean different things to different people. To some people, it means spinning, either the entire room or inside their head, while others feel lightheaded or off balance. It is a sensation where you feel as though everything is moving even when you are standing perfectly still. Dizziness is also a common symptom of metabolic disorders, including hypoxia (low oxygen in the blood), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), diabetes, neurological issues and inner ear dysfunction, and even dehydration. Low magnesium levels and thyroid dysfunction (both overactive and underactive thyroid) are also common causes of dizziness in older adults.

Vertigo refers to a sense of spinning dizziness. Vertigo can lead to nausea and disability. It is most common in elderly people, but it can affect both sexes at any age. It may be a temporary or permanent condition.

A common condition called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (or BPPV) in older adults is the occurrence of calcium carbonate crystals in the inner ear, leading to an acute onset of an intense, short-duration spinning. The spinning is usually associated with specific movements, such as rolling in bed, looking up or bending forward. The signs and symptoms of BPPV may include dizziness, a sense your surroundings are spinning, and a loss of balance and nausea.  

One of the most effective treatments for BPPV is a particle repositioning movement. The most well-known of these treatments is the Epley Maneuver or canalith repositioning procedure. During this treatment, specific head movements lead to the movement of the loose crystals (canaliths) within the inner ear. By repositioning these crystals, they cause less irritation to the inner ear and symptoms can resolve. Because these movements can initially lead to worsening of vertigo, they should be done by an experienced health care professional or physical therapist.

Depending on what’s causing your dizziness or vertigo, there may be things you can do yourself to help relieve your symptoms. Your doctor or the specialist treating you may advise that you:

  • do simple exercises to correct your symptoms
  • sleep with your head slightly raised on two or more pillows
  • get up slowly when getting out of bed and sit on the edge of the bed for a minute or so before standing
  • avoid bending down to pick up items
  • avoid extending your neck – for example, while reaching up to a high shelf
  • move your head carefully and slowly during daily activities
  • do exercises that trigger your vertigo, so your brain gets used to it and reduces the symptoms (do these only after making sure you won’t fall, and have support if needed)

Dizziness is not something to be ignored, as increased dizziness is often associated with increased fall risk. Any way of reducing the risk of falling is extremely important.  Follow this link for some other treatment and therapy options