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What Is Dizziness and Vertigo?

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2015 by UVM Health Network - CVMC

What do dizziness and vertigo really mean?

Some people describe dizziness as vertigo. Vertigo is an illusory sensation of movement. Even though you are still, you may feel like you or moving, or that the room is moving or spinning around you. You may also have nausea, vomiting, sweating, and abnormal eye movements. You may or may not have vertigo when you are dizzy. People also often describe sensations of light headedness or imbalance as dizziness. These sensations are all symptoms of a problem with the vestibular system.

All of these symptoms can be assessed by a qualified physical therapist, and may be appropriate for vestibular rehabilitation. Some treatments for dizziness and vertigo can provide relief in as little as one visit as with certain head and neck maneuvers for BPPV. Some treatments may require specific exercises to desensitize you to these sensations and improve your balance. Some may require further assessment by a doctor.

Most causes of dizziness and vertigo involve the inner ear (vestibular system). All of the following can result in dizziness: BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), inner ear infections or disorders, migraines, tumors, stroke, head injury, a hole in the inner ear and others.

If you can think about these questions, it will help your physical therapist (PT) find the cause of your dizziness and vertigo and the best treatment:

  • When did you first have dizziness, and how would you describe it? Is it more vertigo, light headedness, or imbalance?
  • What are you doing when you get dizziness or vertigo (turning your head, bending over, standing perfectly still, rolling in bed)?
  • How long does the vertigo last (seconds, minutes, hours, days)?
  • Have you recently had the flu/cold?
  • Do you have hearing loss, ringing, or fullness in your ears?
  • Have you had changes in your vision like blurring of street signs while driving?
  • Have you experienced changes in your heart rate or breathing?
  • Do you get migraine headaches?

Much of a therapist’s job is to help get a person moving again and manage the dizziness at the same time. Exercise and performing daily activities are the primary ways of accomplishing this goal. Physical therapists can provide essential coping strategies that make recovery more tolerable.

If specific activities or chores around the house cause dizziness, then learning ways to perform them differently may help to keep the dizziness to a minimum. Activities that were simple may become difficult, causing fatigue and dizziness. A therapist can help you work through some of these issues right away and get you moving, and back to a productive life more quickly.

Therapy for vestibular disorders takes many forms. The type of exercise utilized depends upon the unique problems that the individual demonstrates during the evaluation. Some exercises are geared toward helping with balance, some with helping the brain resolve differences in the inner ear signals, and some with improving the ability to visually focus. In addition, general exercise is often prescribed to improve overall physical health and well-being.

Regardless of the cause of your vestibular disorder, the sooner you start therapy the better. Research has shown that with an acute dysfunction the brain and inner ears work best for compensation, or recovery, in the first few months after a vestibular deficit occurs. This time period is optimal for vestibular rehabilitation to promote the best chance for recovery.

(Learn more about Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy.)