Identifying and treating vertigo

Vertigo can seem disabling but getting treatment can help. 

June 11, 2020


People often think that dizziness and vertigo mean the same thing. But dizziness refers to feeling lightheaded and that you might pass out. It often goes away on its own but can be easily treated. Medication or another disorder can cause dizziness.

Vertigo, on the other hand, is a feeling that you or your surroundings are moving when there is no movement. If you’re one of the 2.4 million people with recurring dizziness or vertigo, see your doctor. Getting treatment quickly can help.

Vertigo can feel disabling because it keeps you from doing anything other than staying in bed. But in most cases, it can be managed and the outlook is good. The following information describes common types of vertigo and steps you can take to feel better. 

What causes vertigo?

One of the most common causes of vertigo is benign paroxysmal position vertigo, or BPPV. It happens when the tiny crystals in the inner ear are out of place. These crystals help you keep your balance.

If the crystals move to another part of the ear, they trigger incorrect nerve signals to the brain. This causes brief vertigo. Patients typically notice the symptoms when they move their head.

Other common causes of vertigo include:

  • Vestibular migraines (a migraine that can cause headaches, vertigo and sensitivity to motion)
  • Meniere’s disease (a balance disorder)
  • Inner ear infections or swelling 
  • Certain kinds of neck pain and stiffness 
  • A combination of two or more of these problems

How do I get help?

Your Polyclinic doctor will ask about your symptoms, including what they are, when they began and how long they last. Then they’ll do an exam. If needed, they’ll refer you to our audiologist (hearing and balance specialist) for further testing.

Treatment depends on the diagnosis and may include medication. You may also be referred to our physical therapy department. One of our physical therapists will develop a treatment plan and home exercises to help lower or eliminate your vertigo.

BPPV treatment usually involves certain head movements based on which ear canal is affected and the type of BPPV you have. If the diagnosis is something other than BPPV, treatment may also include other strategies and exercises.

The Polyclinic offers physical therapy at Madison Center and Northgate Annex. For more information, call 1-206-860-2210.

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.