Feelings of dizziness can mean many things and are often linked to problems affecting the equilibrium system. A few symptoms of dizziness and imbalance include experiencing blurry vision or spinning (vertigo), weakness and general unsteadiness, and feeling lightheaded or faint.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, is the most common cause of vertigo. In fact, this condition will affect approximately 50 percent of individuals over 70 years of age at least once in their lives.
BPPV Occurs because of Changes in the Inner Ear
BPPV typically occurs with a change in head or body position. Episodes last less than one minute. This condition is caused by changes in the balance portion of the inner ear. Calcium carbonate particles, or otoconia, which the ear uses as part of its gravity detector, are normally found in the inner ear. These particles can become displaced and travel into one of the ear’s semicircular canals, where they do not belong. BPPV may be the result of the natural aging process, illness, a change in medication, or head trauma. Often, no known cause for BPPV can be identified.
Common Causes of BPPV
The most common conditions that cause BPPV are:
- Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis (inner ear infections). There is no pain with this type of ear infection, but you may have initially experienced sudden vertigo with nausea lasting hours.
- Medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, migraines and TiAs (small vessel ischemia in the brain) may also cause BPPV.
- Mild head trauma can also cause this condition, but often, the cause is unknown.
Treatment Options for BPPV
The most popular treatment for BPPV is a simple and painless repositioning maneuver performed by a doctoral-level audiologist experienced in the treatment of dizziness and balance disorders. There are several types of repositioning maneuvers for each canal. Treatment is canal-specific and is chosen based on the patient’s individual circumstances. Many studies have been done regarding the effectiveness of treatment maneuvers for BPPV, with results showing rates of resolution well into the 90 percent range after one to three treatments.
The repositioning maneuver for BPPV is not a permanent cure, but instead is a treatment. The condition may recur, and does in about 10 percent of cases. It may recur anytime from a few months to years later, or perhaps, never. Other medical conditions or prescription medications may promote the recurrence (particularly if they affect the body’s processing of calcium).
At Associated Audiologists, approximately 80 percent of patients need one treatment, 17 percent will need two, and only 3 percent will need three or more. There are several different repositioning treatment protocols.
To learn more about dizziness and balance disorders, download our free e-book, What to Know About Dizziness and Balance Disorders.
Danielle Dorner, Au.D., vestibular audiologist with Associated Audiologists, is a specialist in treating patients with dizziness and balance disorders. She has successfully diagnosed and treated hundreds of patients with BPPV.