Ear crystals… You have probably never heard of them, but you have them. If you are experiencing vertigo or dizzy spells, they are most likely the culprit. In fact, about 20% of all dizziness is due to loose inner ear crystals.
What Are Inner Ear Crystals?
Inside the utricle of the inner ear are small calcium crystals called otoconia. They are responsible for our sense of gravity and linear acceleration. These ear crystals are on top of cilia, the hairs of the sensory cells of the inner ear that are attached to tiny nerves.
Movements of the ear crystals cause stimulation of the nerves, which informs the brain that your head is moving. In short, they act as a motion-sensing component until they break loose and migrate into one of the ear’s semicircular canals and cause a disturbance in our balance.
How Loose Ear Crystals Cause Vertigo
The ear crystals are all connected and tell you the motion you are making. In general, the fluid located in the semicircular canals and the crystals in your utricle move only when your head moves. As soon as your head stops moving, the fluid in the canals should settle down as well.
However, the disconnection of the crystals causes some to float in the fluid-filled canals for a couple of seconds. As a result, your inner ear transmits a false signal to the brain that you are moving, and your brain modifies your eye position to compensate. Since you are not actually moving, the brain can’t see and figure out the movement, and it results in vertigo.
Signs and Symptoms of Loose Inner Ear Crystals
Vertigo can be due to many reasons. How can you tell that your vertigo or dizziness stems from loose crystals in your ear? Here are some signs:
- Dizziness that often lasts for 30 seconds or more whenever you make any movement
- Loss of balance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Eye twitching
Your ear crystals are more prone to loosen when you have these factors:
- Age over 65 years
- Women in postmenopause
- A viral infection affecting the inner ear
- Head injury or trauma
What is BPPV?
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common form of vertigo, is due to the disruption of ear crystals within the inner ear. Sudden head movements such as bending over or rolling in bed can cause a false sense of spinning.
Vertigo attacks due to BPPV can be so intense. Some patients report experiencing nausea and vomiting, as well as feeling unsteady on their feet and uncontrollable eye movements. A few others experience unexpected falling or “drop attacks.”
BPPV symptoms usually end after several minutes. Once the episode subsides, lingering dizziness and instability may persist.
How to Fix Loose Ear Crystals
Fortunately, resolving dislodged or loose crystals are easy to treat.
Firstly, your doctor should help you determine which ear has the loose crystals (whether the left or right) and what canal is housing them. Doctors use the Dix-Hallpike test to check if you have BPPV. Basically, the doctor finds the position, specific head angle, or movement that triggers the vertigo attack.
Next, you can try the Epley maneuver. It is a type of exercise that helps move your loose ear crystals back into place. Your doctor or a vestibular physical therapist can facilitate this, or you can also do this by yourself at home. A study showed that the Epley maneuver has a 93% success rate in treating positional vertigo. The exercise should stop once you are symptom-free.
In some cases, the Epley maneuver does not help. Below are the possible reasons they may not always work:
- Ear crystals have migrated into more than one semicircular canal.
- You have excessive ear crystals.
- Both of your ears have crystals.
- Your vertigo has a different cause.
Another option is the Semont maneuver. Same with the Epley maneuver, this exercise also intends to move the ear crystals out of the wrong and sensitive canal of the inner ear. This takes more or less 15 minutes to accomplish. However, this is not popular in the United States, probably due to its high velocity, which can trigger anxiety. Nevertheless, it is just as effective as an Epley maneuver.
Overcoming Vertigo Through Upper Cervical Chiropractic
As mentioned earlier, not all vertigo conditions are due to loose ear crystals alone. If this is your case, the best fix is more than maneuvers. An option you can consider is upper cervical chiropractic.
This technique exclusively focuses on adjusting the topmost vertebrae in the spine. An overlooked cause of vertigo is the misalignment of the atlas or axis vertebra located in the upper cervical spine. The adjustments aim to move back and safeguard the correct position of the bones. How can upper cervical misalignments affect the function of the body?
In BPPV, the upper cervical spine is critical for two reasons:
- The inner ear and the upper cervical spine are close to each other. Any misalignment can affect the performance and communication of the inner ear to the brain. This includes how it delivers information about your balance and orientation.
- The atlas and axis bones of the upper cervical spine protect the brainstem. The brainstem regulates information about your position and orientation and relays the proper signals to the brain so that you don’t fall.
In short, when the atlas or axis are in correct alignment, the inner ear and brainstem can function at their best.
If you or a loved one are dealing with vertigo or any form of dizziness, contact an upper cervical chiropractor near your area.