Healthy Living

Vertigo: The Top 10 Questions

1 Is Vertigo Contagious?

No, vertigo is not contagious! Vertigo cannot be transferred from one person to another by physical contact or sexual contact. People having vertigo cannot give this problem to other people.  

Vertigo is a sensation of feeling dizzy and it is a symptom of some other disorder. If you are having vertigo, you might feel like the environment around you is in motion or spinning. the world seems to be in motion while you are still. It is a particular kind of dizziness which occurs due a number of different reasons. However, this condition is often caused by peripheral or inner ear disorders. If an infection has led to the inflammation in the inner ear around nerves, it can also cause vertigo. This condition, also known as labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, can be caused by bacterial or viral infection. Since viruses can be passed from person to person, it is possible to catch a viral infection if the person has come into the contact with a surface where infected germs are sitting.

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Hence, although vertigo itself is not contagious, if it is a result of labyrinthitis, you should keep your hands clean in order to avoid the infection.

2 Is Vertigo Curable?

There is no single cure for vertigo. Since vertigo is a symptom, not a disease, its treatment depends upon its cause. In many cases, vertigo doesn’t need any treatment. However, sometimes serious medical attention may be required to ease the symptoms. Vertigo can be treated with oral medications, topical medications, drugs given through an IV, or a suppository.

Some types of vertigo may require additional treatment such as:

  • If there is bacterial infection of the middle ear, antibiotic treatment may be required.
  • If your vertigo is a symptom of Meniere's disease, you might be placed on a low salt diet and prescribe medications to increase urine output. You may also be given symptomatic treatment.
  • If your vertigo is a symptom of recurrent infection due to hole in the inner ear, surgery may be required by an ENT specialist.
  • If there is a permanent damage to the brain due to hemorrhage, blood vessel blockage, neck, or head injury, it may cause permanent vertigo symptoms that are incurable. Although doctors may prescribe you certain medication to reduce the episodes or attacks, it can’t be cured permanently in some cases.

In addition to the medicinal treatment, physical maneuvers may also be advised to treat the condition. For example, Epley maneuver, or canalith repositioning maneuver, is a type of physical therapy prescribed by doctors that involves a series of particular head and body movements done while sitting on a bed. During this procedure, the calcium carbonate crystal deposits are moved out of the semicircular canal into an inner ear chamber where it can no longer cause problems. As the crystals move out, you can experience some vertigo during the procedure. With regular maneuver sessions as prescribed by your doctor, you can get rid of vertigo within a week.

3 Is Vertigo a Virus?

No! Vertigo is not a virus, but it can be caused by a viral infection in the inner ear. Vertigo is a symptom that makes you feel dizzy. If you are going through this, you might feel like the environment around you is in motion. This condition can be caused by several reasons. Based on the causes, it is categorized into Peripheral Vertigo and Central Vertigo. However, the majority of vertigo cases are caused by peripheral or inner ear disorders. Labyrinthitis, or vestibular neuritis, is one such disorder that is caused by a bacterial or viral infection in the inner ear around nerves. A person suffering from this may have sudden episodes of vertigo. Hence, although vertigo itself is not a virus, it can be caused by a virus infecting inner ear organs.

4 How Long Does Vertigo Last?

Vertigo attacks are unpredictable. Thus, there is no way of determining how long they may last. Since it is a symptom, the attacks can come and go. They could even disappear completely for a period of time.

Generally speaking, the duration of vertigo depends on the underlying cause:

  • If your vertigo is caused by Mal de Debarquement, for example after a cruise or aircraft flight, the feeling of dizziness usually disappears on its own within 24 hours. In this case, no treatment or medication is required.
  • If you are suffering from benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the symptoms usually stop within a week with the Epley maneuver. These maneuvers are performed by your doctor or Physiotherapist. During the procedure, the patient needs to perform 4 different head movements. Each head position is required to be held for at least 30 seconds. You may experience some vertigo during the procedure. After the Epley maneuver is over, your symptoms should reduce soon after. However, it may still take up to 2 weeks for a complete recovery. You need to see your doctor again if you haven’t seen any improvement in your symptoms even after 4 weeks.
  • If your vertigo is a symptom of Meniere's disease, the attack can last from 20 minutes to 24 hours.
  • If your vertigo is a symptom of labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis, i.e. the inflammation of inner ear, it may last for several days until the inflammation reduces.
  • If your vertigo is a result of stroke, either due to hemorrhage or blood vessel blockage, it may lead to the permanent damage of the brain and recurrent vertigo episodes that are permanent.
  • Vertigo is commonly linked to smaller tumors in the early stages. When the tumor enlarges in size, vertigo subsides.
  • If vertigo is caused by neck or head injury, symptoms may last for several years or be permanent.

5 Does Vertigo Cause Headaches?

Vertigo does not cause headache, but vice versa is possible. Vertigo is a symptom, generally caused by another illness. It is not itself a medical condition that shows others signs or symptoms. Vertigo is actually a specific kind of dizziness that produces the feeling that the environment around you is in motion or spinning. However, depending on the underlying cause, other symptoms can accompany vertigo and headache is one of them. In fact, headache can be a serious cause of vertigo. If you have migraine or get serious episodes of headaches, it can lead to the onset of vertigo. Some other symptoms that can accompany vertigo include nausea, hearing loss, vomiting, tinnitus, or a feeling of fullness in the ear.

6 Does Vertigo Make You Tired?

Vertigo is not a medical illness that shows signs and symptoms. Vertigo itself is a symptom of some other disorder, usually inner ear problems. On the basis of underlying cause, other symptoms can accompany vertigo and fatigue is one of them. Hence, vertigo may not make your tired but the underlying cause can.

7 Where Does Vertigo Come from?

Vertigo is a medical complaint that is most often caused by the disturbances in either:

  • the inner ear or the vestibular nerve (Peripheral Vertigo)
  • the brain, mainly the cerebellum (Central Vertigo)

Causes of Peripheral Vertigo

In majority of cases, it is the inner ear or the vestibular nerve that causes the onset of vertigo. The peripheral vertigo is caused by one of the following:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV): This vertigo is caused by the particular changes in the position of your head. It is caused by calcium carbonate crystals floating in the inner ear fluid. BPPV is not a life-threatening medical condition. It comes in sudden, brief episode and often gets triggered by certain head movements or positions.
  • Meniere’s disease: It is another inner ear disorder that causes vertigo. This disease affects balance and hearing. The exact cause of Meniere’s disease isn’t known, but it is believed by scientists to be caused by changes in the fluid in tubes of the inner ear. Some other symptoms that accompany vertigo include loss of hearing in the affected ear, headaches, nausea, vomiting, a feeling of fullness in the affected ear, a sensation of ringing in the affected ear, and sweating caused by severe vertigo.
  • Acute peripheral vestibulopathy (APV): This condition causes inflammation of the inner ear. It also results in the sudden onset of vertigo.

In rare cases, peripheral vertigo is also caused by:

  • Perilymphatic fistula, or abnormal connection between the middle ear and the inner ear.
  • Otosclerosis, or abnormal growth of bone in the middle ear.
  • Cholesteatoma erosion, caused by a cyst in the inner ear.
  • Herpes zoster oticus, or a viral infection of the ear.

Causes of Central Vertigo

8 How Do You Know Which Ear Is Affected in Vertigo?

Follow the below steps to determine which ear is affected in vertigo:

  • Sit on your bed in a way that if you lie down, your head hangs a little over the edge of the bed.
  • Turn your head to the right and quickly lie back.
  • Wait 1 minute.
  • If you feel dizzy or if it feels like your environment is spinning, then your right ear is affected.
  • If you don’t feel dizzy, sit up.
  • Wait 1 minute.
  • Turn your head to the left and quickly lie back.
  • Wait 1 minute.
  • If you feel dizzy or if it feels like your environment is spinning, then your left ear is affected.

9 How Is Vertigo Treated?

If you experience recurrent episodes of vertigo, the doctor may recommend Vestibular rehab. These treatment options include:

Canalith repositioning maneuvers: The American Academy of Neurology recommends a series of certain head and body movements for treating BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo). These movements move the calcium carbonate crystal deposits out of the semicircular canal into an inner ear chamber so the body can absorb it. During the procedure, you may experience vertigo as the canalith moves. Your doctor or physiotherapist can guide you through the head and body movements.

Medicine: In some cases, doctors also prescribe certain medications to relieve the symptoms accompanying vertigo such as nausea or motion sickness. If vertigo is a symptom of inner ear inflammation caused by virus or bacteria, antibiotics or steroids are likely to be recommended to reduce swelling and cure infection.

For Meniere's disease, the doctor may prescribe you diuretics (water pills) to reduce pressure from fluid buildup.

Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be required to treat vertigo. If vertigo is a symptom of a more serious underlying medical problem, such as injury to the brain or neck, tumor, or hemorrhage, treatment options for those problems may help alleviate vertigo too.  

10 What Is Positional Vertigo?

Benign positional vertigo (BPV) is the most common cause of vertigo, which causes a sudden sensation that your head is spinning. A person suffering from BPV can have short periods of intense or mild dizziness. BPV generally triggers when you change the position of your head. In general, the following actions can trigger a BPV episode:

  • Moving your head up or down
  • Lying down
  • Getting up
  • Turning over

BPV can be frustrating for people because the episodes are usually unpredictable and frightening. Most often, BPV is not a serious condition, except when a person falls due to dizziness.

Causes of Benign Positional Vertigo

BPV is caused by a disturbance inside your inner ear. Semicircular canals are the loop-shaped structures inside your ear that contain fluid that moves when the position of your head or body changes. These canals are extremely sensitive. BPV occurs when small crystals of calcium that are normally in another area of the ear dislodge and escape to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. This causes the canal to become sensitive to changes in head position, which makes you feel dizzy.

Treatment of Benign Positional Vertigo

In order to relieve spinning sensations caused by BPV, doctor may recommend you medications such as sedative-hypnotics, antihistamines, and anticholinergics. Some doctors also recommend Epley’s maneuver, which is considered the most effective BPV treatment. In this procedure, the crystals of dislodged calcium carbonate are moved to a different part of your ear where it will no longer create any problems.