Dizziness Isn't All In Your Head: A Doctor Explains Vertigo + Ways To Treat It
If you've ever suffered from dizziness or vertigo, you know that it's not something you ever want to experience regularly (or at all). It can create uncomfortable, sometimes miserable feelings of panic, nausea, and weakness. It's not only scary; dizziness can be a sign of more concerning problems, and understanding the underlying cause and any associated symptoms can help you feel better sooner rather than later.
The most prevalent cause of dizziness is vertigo, which accounts for 54 percent of dizziness reports in primary care offices. Vertigo creates a feeling of spinning within your body and also potentially within your environment. This feeling can last seconds or minutes (as in vestibular paroxysm) or hours (as in Menière’s disease or vestibular migraine). In the worst cases, vertigo can last days or even weeks.
The basics of vertigo: symptoms, severity, and root causes.
Interestingly, vertigo is not a disease but actually a symptom itself. Dizziness can be a sign of a wide range of disorders and often coincides with other uncomfortable symptoms. Depending on the cause, vertigo may also be accompanied by ear pressure, headaches, hearing loss, nausea, vomiting, loss of vision, slurred speech, or loss of consciousness. Identifying all of the associated symptoms is crucial because it can help determine the underlying problem, identify what type of vertigo is being experienced, and ensure appropriate care.
The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV is caused by calcium carbonate crystals normally embedded in gel in the utricle (part of the inner ear) becoming dislodged. The crystals can then migrate into one or more of the three fluid-filled semicircular canals in the ear. When these crystals accumulate in one of the canals, they interfere with normal fluid movement, and the inner ear can send false signals to the brain.
BPPV creates brief dizziness episodes often triggered by specific changes, like moving your head up or down, lying down, turning over, or sitting up. Symptoms of BPPV besides dizziness include nausea, vomiting, and unsteadiness that can increase your risk for falls. Fortunately, BPPV is the easiest type of vertigo to treat. If you suspect you have BPPV, consult with your doctor to discuss effective strategies to reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Treating vertigo: what to expect.
Treating vertigo typically includes some combination of medication, physical therapy, and psychotherapy. In extreme cases, it may require surgery, but this is rare. The treatment method and medications used depend on the type of vertigo and any underlying conditions. In the case of BPPV, a doctor may be able to help move the calcium crystals that cause the problem out of the ear canal, providing relief. Additionally, a doctor might prescribe medication including diuretics, anti-dizziness medications, anti-nausea medications, anti-anxiety medications, and migraine remedies. However, vertigo often demands a multifactorial approach beyond medication. One option is seeing a chiropractor. Vertigo centers on the nervous system and the structures that surround it, including the spine and its structure, so chiropractic treatments can be a perfect complement to care.
Manage vertigo naturally with these five strategies.
With the right approach, you can effectively manage vertigo. Research has found that combined therapy—including regular exercise and balance training—leads to marked improvement in more than 70 percent of patients, even those who've had vertigo for years.
1. Balance your blood sugar.
Processed, sugary foods can trigger blood sugar fluctuations, and so do things like alcohol, which can worsen symptoms like dizziness. Studies have found that reducing unhealthy fats and carbohydrates while increasing fiber-rich foods can stabilize triglycerides and minimize harm to the inner ear. Eating a whole foods, unprocessed diet with plenty of high-fiber plant foods including leafy and cruciferous vegetables as well as berries and legumes is a great way to stabilize your blood sugar and provide the nutrients your body needs to thrive.
2. Eat anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.
Oxidative stress and inflammatory mediators may contribute to vertigo. One study found people with BPPV had low levels of antioxidants. Load up on antioxidant-rich foods like berries and nonstarchy vegetables along with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty-acid-rich foods including wild-caught seafood, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
3. Control stress.
Studies show stress and vertigo go hand in hand and often feed off each other. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to experience an episode of vertigo, and worrying about vertigo, in turn, increases stress and anxiety. You can learn to manage those emotions with calming practices like meditation, deep breathing, or yoga.
4. Try herbal remedies.
A number of herbs can provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and other benefits that can ameliorate the symptoms of vertigo. Among them include turmeric, cayenne, Ginkgo biloba, and ginger root. Just remember to always talk to your health care practitioner before incorporating new supplements or herbs into your routine.
5. Exercise consistently.
Researchers found a home-based exercise program was more effective than medication for some patients with persistent or chronic vertigo. The type and level of exercise recommended depends on several factors including how fit you are, what you’ll stick with consistently, and what you can do to safely minimize dizziness and other potential symptoms. That might mean an elliptical machine, brisk walking, or weight resistance. Yoga makes a great exercise to strengthen balance, improve blood flow, and positively affect your sympathetic nervous system. Some poses can be problematic for people with vertigo, so inform your yoga instructor if you have vertigo or other medical conditions.