The top 5 causes of dizziness

The term dizziness is often used to describe:

  • Vertigo – the sensation that you, or your environment, is spinning around or moving
  • Light-headedness – the feeling that you are about to faint
  • Unsteadiness – the sensation that you’re about to fall or have lost coordination/balance when walking or standing.

The body’s balance system works through a constant process of position detection, feedback and adjustment. It achieves this using an elaborate communication system which exists between the vestibular system (a complex set of fluid-filled channels in the inner ear that tell your brain about direction and speed of movement), your eyes, muscles, joints and the brain.

Your brain receives the information from these sources, processes it and matches them together so as to continue the correct function of your vision, movement and coordination without having to think about it. Disruption between receiving and or interpreting the information will result in dizziness – let's look at the top 5 causes:

The top 5 causes of dizziness

1. Infections or other disorders of the inner ear

The vestibular system in the inner ear is designed to send information about the position of the head to the brain’s movement control centre, the cerebellum.

The function of the vestibular system may decrease with age and can also be impacted by disease and or injury.

The most common cause of a sudden episode of dizziness is a simple viral infection, such as the common cold or flu. If this infection spreads to your inner ear or the nerve that carries balance-related information from your ear to your brain it can cause disruption of information and subsequent dizzy spells.

More serious infections, for example meningitis, can also cause balance issues, as can the antibiotics used to treat them.

2. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV is the most common balance disorder. It causes repeated short spells of vertigo when you change the position of your head.

It is thought that BPPV occurs when small, calcium crystals within the inner ear become dislodged and move from the part of the ear which senses gravity to the part which senses head position.

BPPV can occur randomly across the life cycle, but is most often associated following head trauma. The symptoms of BPPV can, in most cases, be improved by a hearing loss specialist by employing a simple treatment technique referred to as the 'Epley' manoeuvre.

The manoeuvre involves guiding you to perform a series of different head positions which moves the aforementioned crystals into another part of the inner ear, where they don’t cause balance problems.

3. Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease is a condition in which a recurring set of symptoms (most notably, vertigo, ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and hearing loss) result as abnormally large amounts of a fluid called endolymph collect in the inner ear. It commonly affects just one ear.

Unfortunately, Ménière’s disease is untreatable, with symptoms and development differing from person to person. Episodes can last from between several minutes up to 24 hours. Some of the symptoms can, however,  be managed through diet and medication. Specialists can work with you to determine the treatment that works best for your given case.

4. Head Injury

Head injuries are another of the causes of hearing loss, and can result in dizziness and balance disorders such as BPPV. The symptoms which follow often depend on the severity of the trauma and may exacerbate previous conditions.

If you are suffering from dizziness following a head injury (be it pre-existing or not) you should always see your respective health specialist as soon as possible.

5. Cholesteatoma

A cholesteatoma is an abnormal collection of skin cells that grows in the middle ear, behind the ear drum. These can continue to grow and begin to damage and even destroy the delicate bones of the middle ear. Cholesteatomas may develop following repeated infections, too.

In some cases, uncontrolled growth of a cholesteatoma can result in hearing loss, dizziness, and in severe cases, facial muscle paralysis. It’s crucial you see a health specialist as soon as possible if you suspect you may be suffering from cholesteatoma development as bone erosion can cause the infection to spread to the inner ear and eventually the brain (which can be serious).

How is dizziness treated?

The treatment you receive is entirely dependant on the symptoms you are suffering with. It’s important to work with an experienced healthcare practitioner who can help you identify the underlying causes of your symptoms and the most optimal treatment pathways.

Anti-nausea drugs are often prescribed as are vestibular sedatives to help ease your dizziness. These medications should not be relied on long term as they may actually prolong your natural recovery from the condition.

With you on your journey to better hearing.

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