Vertigo: What is it and what causes it?

Vertigo is defined as a sensation of spinning accompanied by a loss of balance. It is most often attributed to looking down from a great…
Vertigo: What is it and what causes it?

You’ve probably heard the word, but do you know what vertigo really is? (Photo: Shutterstock)

Vertigo is defined as a sensation of spinning accompanied by a loss of balance. It is most often attributed to looking down from a great height, but some people can experience it during unpredictable moments, sometimes while driving or even when sitting quietly at home.

Though once misunderstood, we now have a better grasp as to what vertigo is and what causes it.

SEE ALSO: Best natural remedies for earaches and when to call a doctor

Looking at vertigo more in-depth

While the majority of people experience vertigo when they are looking down from a great height, a more accurate description of it is the sensation that you’re surroundings are moving when they are actually stationary.

This illusion of movement is what makes vertigo different from just lightheadedness prior to passing out. In severe cases, vertigo can cause nausea, vomiting and can prevent someone from standing or walking.

It is important to understand that vertigo is a symptom, not a disorder itself. Also, having vertigo does not mean you have a fear of heights, though people with this phobia may also experience vertigo.

Ultimately, vertigo is the result of a miscommunication between various signals in the brain. It is the result of one or more sensory receptors sending inaccurate information.

For example, your eyes perceive motions or your fluid in your ear indicates an imbalance that’s not there.

WebMD indicates there are four primary areas of the body that contribute to vertigo: the eyes, the skin, the ears and the sensory nerves in the body’s joints.

In one way or another, through sensitivity to pressure or changes in posture, these areas of the body determine how balanced we feel at any given moment.

Vertigo can cause headaches.

Nausea is a symptom of vertigo. (Photo: Shutterstock)

What are the known causes of vertigo?

Because a number of things can influence vertigo, including sinus pressure and ear infections, recurring vertigo needs to be evaluated by a medical professional.

Vertigo that is accompanied by a change in speech or vision or other loss of function could signify a medical emergency such as a stroke.

Common causes include:

  • Inner ear disorders, such as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Ménière’s disease, vestibular neuritis, or labyrinthitis
  • Injury to the ear or head
  • Migraine headaches
  • Decreased blood flow through the arteries that supply blood to the base of the brain (vertebrobasilar insufficiency)
  • Sinus infection
  • Ear infection
  • A noncancerous growth in the space behind the eardrum (cholesteatoma)(less common)
  • Brain tumors and cancer that has traveled from another part of the body (metastatic) (less common)

How is vertigo treated?

Medical News Today indicates many cases of vertigo resolve on their own or happen once and never again.

Chronic vertigo, however, is treated based on the medical condition causing it. An ear infection, for example, will likely require antibiotics or ear drops to solve the issue.

SEE ALSO: Common infections could be to blame for memory decline in Hispanics

Vertigo that is the result of an incurable condition is treated symptomatically; medications are prescribed to deal with the nausea and other side-effects of feeling off balance.