Vertigo is most commonly thought of as a fear of heights, but this is incorrect. It's actually a symptom of a number of causes, which is reported to give the sensation of the world spinning around the individual or the individual spinning in space. Lighter episodes give the sensation of rocking or simple lightheadedness. It typically comes unpredictably and without warning. A vertigo episode can cause nausea, vomiting, and balance and equilibrium difficulties.
Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is the most common form of vertigo and is often mistaken for Meniere's syndrome. The causes of this type are not fully known, but the current theory is that vertigo is caused by calcium carbonate crystals floating in the posterior semicircular canal of the inner ear. This part of the ear is part of the vestibular system, which is responsible for controlling the body's equilibrium. The fluid in the inner ear canal transmits information about the head's movement to the vestibular nerve, and these free-floating crystals can interfere with the transmission, thereby throwing off the body's equilibrium.
Meniere's syndrome is another cause of vertigo. The syndrome causes fleeting deafness and ringing in the ears, which is usually accompanied by brief episodes of vertigo. People with this syndrome feel pressure in their ears shortly before they lose their hearing, and vertigo often quickly follows. The vertigo episodes build in intensity over time until the syndrome takes away the person's hearing completely.
Inner Ear Inflammation
Inflammation of the inner ear, either from bacterial or viral infections, is also known to cause episodes of vertigo. The inflammation causes distortions in the canal fluid, which in turn causes difficulty in transmitting information about the head's movement for equilibrium control. In other words, it causes vertigo for similar reasons as BPPV, but when the infection clears, so do both the inflammation and the vertigo.
A wide variety of medical conditions can also cause vertigo, but these are far less common. Brain tumours, particularly acoustic neuroma tumours, are known to cause vertigo. Other head/brain conditions that can cause vertigo include strokes, head trauma, neck injuries, cerebellar hemorrhaging, and migraine headaches. Vertigo is also occasionally a symptom of low blood pressure, multiple sclerosis, and heart arrhythmias.
For some people, medications can cause vertigo. These can include over-the-counter cold and flu medications, prescription painkillers, and prescriptions for high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, depression and anxiety. Antibiotics, when taken in high doses or for long term, can cause ototoxicity--ear poisoning--which can damage the inner ear and cause vertigo.
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