When the World is Spinning: Dizziness and Falls
Feelings of dizziness or unsteadiness are a common health complaint. About 42% of adults will report dizziness to their doctor or audiologist at least once in their lifetime.
The frequency of these balance disorders increases with age. Balance disorders and falls are one of the most common reasons for seeking medical help for people over 70 years of age.
Dizziness may be related to ear and hearing problems because the balance center is connected to the inner ear. The ear and balance systems also share the same nerve leading to the brain.
Two common but very different descriptions of a dizziness attack are the room is spinning or there is a sense of unsteadiness. These attacks may happen suddenly or when you change position (such as getting out of bed). The episode may last only a few minutes or may be long-term. Some people experience faintness or nausea.
Types of dizziness.
Vertigo refers to a problem of the balance system. A person with vertigo usually complains of feelings of spinning or turning, rather than a sense of unsteadiness. Vertigo can be caused by viral infections, medications, head trauma, ear infections and, rarely, tumors.
Dysequilibrium refers to more generalized problems of unsteadiness. These complaints usually are not related to the inner ear, but to problems such as high blood pressure, hyperventilation, or poor blood circulation.
Because there are so many causes, it can be difficult to identify the cause of a balance disorder. The first step is a medical examination. Specialized tests may include audiologic testing and balance testing such as electronystagmography (ENG).
If a specific cause is found, treatment can be directed at the cause of the balance disorder. In the many cases where a specific cause is not found, medication or a change in diet may be recommended.
A vestibular rehabilitation program may also be recommended. A program of exercises that helps the brain to compensate for the reduction of balance function can be very helpful in reducing unsteadiness.
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