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.
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.
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.
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:
Your ear crystals are more prone to loosen when you have these factors:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
The content and materials provided in this web site are for informational and educational purposes only and are not intended to supplement or comprise a medical diagnosis or other professional opinion, or to be used in lieu of a consultation with a physician or competent health care professional for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. All content and materials including research papers, case studies and testimonials summarizing patients' responses to care are intended for educational purposes only and do not imply a guarantee of benefit. Individual results may vary, depending upon several factors including age of the patient, severity of the condition, severity of the spinal injury, and duration of time the condition has been present.