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Is dizziness or vertigo throwing you off balance?

Health & Fitness

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This article is brought to you by Pick PT Physical Therapy, which provides expert physical therapy treatments with exemplary patient care. In addition to providing orthopedic and manual therapy, it is also certified to help with balance, dizziness, and vertigo impairments. Click here to find out more.

Do you wake up in the morning with dizziness, sit up from bed with vertigo, or turn your head quickly and suddenly become dizzy? If yes, then you likely have an inner ear problem. In fact, more than 40 percent of Americans will experience an episode of dizziness sometime during their lives that is significant enough to send them to a doctor.

The Vestibular Disorders Association began Balance Awareness Week, which took place earlier this month, to highlight just how much of an impact inner ear and brain disorders can have on an individual’s daily life. Patients who suffer from balance issues associated with vestibular disorders often experience chronic physical, mental, and emotional pain. 

At Pick PT Physical Therapy, doctors of physical therapy with specialized training evaluate and treat dizziness, vertigo and loss of balance associated with inner ear or neurological dysfunction.

Common in older adults

The terms dizziness and vertigo are often used interchangeably. However, there are slight differences between the two. Dizziness is characterized by feelings of lightheadedness, faintness or unsteadiness. Vertigo is described as feeling as if you or your surroundings are spinning.

In addition, older adults are more susceptible to dizziness and vertigo, with 80% of people aged 65 years and older having experienced dizziness at some point, according the Vestibular Disorders Association.

A wide range of causes

Dizziness can be caused by a wide variety of conditions ranging from dehydration to cardiovascular problems to certain neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and stroke.

Dizziness – more often vertigo – can also be linked to a problem with the vestibular system, which comprises the parts of the inner ear and brain that process the sensory information involved with controlling balance.

Common vestibular disorders include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a condition in which the small calcium particles in the inner ear become displaced and disrupt the inner ear balance sensors, causing brief, intense dizziness when you change the position of your head. BPPV is the cause of approximately 50% of dizziness in older people, according to the Vestibular Disorders Association.
  • Ménière’s disease, which involves abnormal pressure in the ear due to a change in fluid volume in the inner ear. Symptoms of Ménière’s disease include intense vertigo, hearing loss, nausea, tinnitus and a feeling of fullness in the ear. The disease normally affects only one ear.
  • Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis, inflammations caused by a viral infection.
  • Orthopedic problems such as inflammation in the joints of the neck or jaw or a muscle imbalance in those areas can put pressure on the vestibular nerve and interfere with the vestibular system.

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Physical therapy can help

The first step in treating dizziness and vertigo is determining the cause of the condition by testing the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, vestibular, visual and sensory systems.

Once a diagnosis is reached, specific exercises and physical therapy techniques, available through Pick PT Physical Therapy, can help alleviate dizziness, vertigo and other symptoms that can lead to falls.

Treatment may include balance training, visual exercises to help stabilize balance and, in cases of BPPV, a specialized equilibrium realignment techniques known to return the inner ear crystals to their normal positions.

Physical therapy can also help strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility, so patients are better able to maintain balance and reduce their chance of falling.

Tips for those experiencing frequent dizziness

  • If you experience regular episodes of dizziness or vertigo, see your doctor. Ignoring symptoms could lead to more serious complications, including falls.
  • One of the best ways to maintain balance and prevent falls is through regular physical exercise to help you stay strong.
  • Avoid moving suddenly and walk with a cane for stability, if needed.
  • Fall-proof your home by removing tripping hazards such as area rugs and exposed electrical cords. Use nonslip mats on your bath and shower floors. Use good lighting.
  • Sit or lie down immediately when you feel dizzy. Lie still with your eyes closed in a darkened room if you’re experiencing a severe episode of vertigo.
  • Avoid driving a car or operating heavy machinery if you experience frequent dizziness without warning.
  • Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, salt and tobacco. Excessive use of these substances can worsen your signs and symptoms.
  • Drink enough fluids, eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep and avoid stress.