By Rita Colorito
AS WE AGE, so do our ears, and for many
that means the onset of vertigo, that not-so-lovely feeling you’re trapped in a Hitchcock
thriller, unable to move or even leave your
house because of the sometimes debilitating
spins. More than four out of 10 Americans, at
some point in their lives, will experience an
episode of dizziness significant enough to
send them to a doctor, according to the
National Institutes of Health.
Vertigo doesn’t have to sideline you from
life. Here’s a look at this unusual illness; always
check with your medical professional before
Most cases of vertigo—the feeling the
world is spinning around you—are caused by
something called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV, which can happen to
anyone at any time, and usually occurs when
you turn your head to a certain position.
“The whole sensation lasts seconds to a
minute at the longest, and if you then repeat
the same maneuver, the sensation may not
reoccur at that moment, even though later on
it could,” explains W. Michael King, director of
the Vestibular Testing Center in the University
of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor.
Oftentimes, BPPV occurs after a blow to
the head, such as banging it on a closet door,
according to King. Half the time, a cause isn’t
found. And, because symptoms usually go
away on their own, most people who experi-
ence BPPV don’t bother to go to the doctor to
get a diagnosis.
During BPPV, tiny crystals in the inner
ear that sensitize us to gravity become dislodged and throw off the body’s vestibular
system, one of three bodily systems that regulate balance (sight and muscular strength are
the other two). The good news: BPPV can be
easily and immediately treated, either at your
doctor’s office or at home through vestibular
therapy, a series of head movements designed
to reposition the crystals (see sidebar).
During acute attacks of vertigo, the
extreme spinning sensation doesn’t go away
and can go on for hours. Colleen English
Ross, a Costco member from Ashburn,
Virginia, experienced one such attack in
December 2012, which came on suddenly
and violently while she was sleeping. The next
day it returned, only much worse.
“I felt nauseous. I had trouble concentrating. I called my husband, who became concerned because I was having trouble forming
sentences,” English Ross recalls.
Like most people who suffer from these
frightening attacks, English Ross ended up in
the emergency room. Oftentimes, acute bouts
of vertigo could signal a stroke, says King,
which requires immediate attention.
English Ross’ diagnosis of her vertigo: labyrinthitis caused by a lingering cold, which led to
an inner ear infection. Other causes of acute
labyrinthitis, not associated with stroke or malignant tumors, include viral and bacterial infections, benign lesions and trauma to the inner ear.
for your health
CONTINUED ON PAGE 48
TO TREAT BENIGN paroxysmal
positional vertigo, or BPPV, you can
either go to a vestibular therapy center
or a physical therapist who is trained
in treating vertigo, or you can do exer-
cises at home. The most well-known
BPPV exercise is called the Epley
maneuver, which works in 80 percent
of BPPV cases. Researchers at the
University of Michigan Health System
found a You Tube demonstration (you
tube.com; search “Epley maneuver”) of
the maneuver by the American
Academy of Neurology to be the most
accurate and effective for home use.
For others, the Half Somersault
com) might work if the Epley fails.
This fairly new maneuver was
designed by Dr. Carol Foster, an asso-
ciate professor in the Department of
Otolaryngology at the University of
Colorado School of Medicine, who is
also a BPPV sufferer. In a study of
both maneuvers, Foster found
patients reported less dizziness and
had fewer complications when self-
applying the Half Somersault maneu-
ver versus the Epley maneuver.
There are other home exercises
you can try, but before you treat your-
self, see a doctor first. The maneuver
to relieve vertigo depends on pre-
cisely the kind of BPPV you have.
The Costco Connection
Costco offers a variety of over-the-counter
and prescription medications that may help
with symptoms of vertigo.