Room spinning dizziness is scary and miserable, but a physical maneuver and a vitamin can help.
The alarm clock rings, you roll over to turn it off and — whoa! The room seems to spin. Or you look up to see a bird flying overhead and suddenly feel as if the ground beneath you is moving. You might look quickly over your shoulder while driving, then back at the road, and suddenly realize you are so dizzy you’d better pull over.
If you experience similar frightening episodes and the dizzy sensations quickly pass but recur sometimes when you change your head position, the odds are great you have the most common cause of vertigo. The most common condition causing these symptoms is called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), it’s a non-life threatening but often miserable condition caused by a mechanical problem in the inner ear.
Thankfully, it’s usually not difficult to diagnose or treat. And new research suggests vitamin D supplements may play a role in keeping vertigo at bay.
Here’s how the spinning sensations happens in the first place: Tiny calcium carbonate crystals normally embedded in the utricle (one of the inner ear sensory organs), can become loose and migrate into three fluid-filled semicircular canals, parts of the ear that sense when you are rotating. If enough of these crystals accumulate in one or more of the canals, they interfere with fluid movement that normally helps you sense whether your head is still or moving. The result is your brain falsely registers movement, triggering vertigo — the sense the room is spinning, according to the Vestibular Disorders Association.
The symptoms usually don’t last long, but it’s not unusual to feel as if your balance is out of whack for a couple of hours. Vertigo sometimes goes away without any treatment. But if it recurs, your doctor can diagnose the problem with the Dix-Hallpike test.
During this non-invasive test, your doctor will gently rotate your head while you are sitting and then when you quickly lie backwards. Typically, this will cause rapid eye movements and vertigo if you have BPPV.
Meclizine is an antihistamine that can relieve the symptoms, but it doesn’t solve the cause of BPPV. However, the condition can be treated and often cured with the Epley maneuver, which repositions the calcium crystals in your ear.
A doctor or specially trained physical therapist guides you through a series of specific movements that cause the dizziness-causing crystals to move back into the utricle where they originated – much like tilting and rotating a puzzle until little balls fall into holes. Sometimes the Epley maneuver needs to be repeated, but it results in an instant fix for many vertigo sufferers.
"If you know what you are doing, you can treat a person one time and the BPPV is gone," said Lisa Heusel-Gillig, a physical therapist at the Emory Dizziness and Balance Center. Heusel-Gillig also provides BPPV patients with specific head movements they can do at home to reposition crystals causing the dizziness.
Recent studies have suggested vitamin D may play a role in both preventing vertigo and reducing the odds it will recur. Researchers have discovered a possible link between vitamin D deficiency and BPPV. It turns out there are vitamin D receptors within the inner ear’s calcium channel transport systems – and vitamin D is known to help regulate calcium.
Another study found the Epley maneuver was equally effective in BPPV patients whether they received vitamin D supplements or not. However, the dizziness-causing condition was far less likely to return in those who did take vitamin D supplements.
January 08, 2017
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA