Vertigo is not a condition in and of itself. It is a symptom that comes along with various conditions. Vertigo can feel as if the world is spinning around you, or that you are spinning around when you’re actually still. The term vertigo can describe any false sensation of movement, including tilting or swaying. People often use the term vertigo to describe dizziness or even a fear of heights.
Vertigo symptoms can be sudden and severe. People describe their symptoms in a variety of terms:
- Motion sickness
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty focusing the eyes
- Losing balance
- Temporary hearing loss
The variability of vertigo doesn’t stop there. Vertigo can be complex and can have its origins in several places which we’ll explore below.
Central Vertigo vs. Peripheral Vertigo
There are two different types of vertigo – central and peripheral. The difference lies in where the condition originates. Peripheral vertigo is by far more common than central vertigo and can, unfortunately, be more severe. Peripheral vertigo is the result of a problem with the inner ear, which plays a large role in your body’s ability to maintain its balance. Examples of peripheral vertigo include:
BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo)
BPPV is the most common type of peripheral vertigo. Short but frequent bouts of vertigo are due to displacement of calcium particles into an area in the inner ear where they should not belong. This sends confusing signals to the brain which result in the sensation of vertigo.
The vertigo episodes associated with Meniere’s disease can be totally debilitating. Other hallmark symptoms of Meniere’s include tinnitus (ringing in the ear), a feeling of fullness in the ear, as well as fluctuating hearing loss.
The fluid-filled inner ear can become infected and inflamed which can disturb the vestibular apparatus, the part of the inner ear that senses balance.
The nerve that helps to control your body’s sense of balance is the vestibular nerve, also called cranial nerve 8. When this nerve becomes inflamed it can cause sudden, severe episodes of vertigo.
Central vertigo has its roots lie within the central nervous system. It is not nearly as common as peripheral vertigo. Central vertigo can stem from an injury to the brain or by disease, such as:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Head injury (car accident, sports injury, etc.)
- Illness or infection
Central vertigo attacks can come on without warning and last for longer periods of time than peripheral vertigo episodes. They can also be much more intense. Abnormal eye movements called nystagmus last longer (from weeks to months) in people with central vertigo than with those with peripheral.
Vertigo and the Vestibular System
In order for your body to maintain its sense of balance, several components must be working in harmony with one another. The vestibular system is consists of parts of the inner ear and brain that process sensory information and eye movements. The processing of your vision, your inner ear, and sensors in the limbs, trunk, and spine (called proprioceptors) all relay information to the brainstem. In response, signals are then sent back to the eyes and muscles to help keep your posture and balance.
Problems with vertigo episodes arise when there is a malfunction with one or more components of this system. If the brain and brainstem do not receive the proper information, it can cause confusion and abnormal compensation, which can easily lead to the sensation of vertigo.
Care Options for Patients
Vertigo can be a challenge to treat since it can arise from so many different places. Depending on what is determined to be the source of your vertigo, some of the following recommendations might sound familiar:
- Low-sodium diet – this recommendation is often for those with Meniere’s disease. The reason this might make sense to try is that Meniere’s disease creates a buildup of excess fluid within the inner ear. A low-sodium diet might help with your body’s overall fluid retention in hopes that the fluid level in the ear will also be reduced.
- Vestibular rehabilitation – helping to strengthen the vestibular system through specific therapies can bring some relief of vertigo symptoms.
- Medications – While there is no specific medicine to treat vertigo, medications might be prescribed to relieve vertigo-related symptoms such as nausea or motion sickness.
- Canalith repositioning maneuvers – this is most often recommended when BPPV is the suspected cause of vertigo. Maneuvers such as Epley’s, when done properly, might help to reposition loose calcium crystals so that they can be reabsorbed by the body.
Natural, Long-lasting Vertigo Relief
Many vertigo sufferers are seeking out a drug-free method to find lasting relief from their symptoms, not just a temporary solution. Upper cervical chiropractic care is a great fit if you fall into that category. Knowing that vertigo arises from a miscommunication within the vestibular system, ensuring that the brainstem is functioning properly is the foundation for everything else. The uppermost vertebrae (the atlas and axis) in the spine provide a layer of protection for the brainstem. However, when there is a misalignment of these vertebrae it can be the root cause of many cases of vertigo. This can be particularly true in vertigo sufferers that have any type of head or neck injury in their past.
Upper cervical chiropractic care gently realigns the vertebrae around the brainstem so that normal communication can return. Adjustments are precise, gentle, and designed to hold in place for as long as possible. These factors combined are what allow for natural, long lasting results. Many vertigo patients under upper cervical chiropractic care report either a reduction in the severity or frequency of their symptoms or are even living vertigo-free.