Vertigo is a disturbing balance disorder that leaves you feeling dizzy. It is characterized by the sensation that the room is spinning around you, even though no actual movement is taking place. Vertigo is caused by disturbances of the inner ear or brain.

Symptoms & Types of Vertigo

Vertigo itself is considered a symptom rather than a disease, the sign of an underlying condition. In addition to a feeling that your environment is moving or spinning, you may experience nausea, vomiting, tinnitus, hearing loss, difficulty focusing on objects, double vision, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Your doctor will want to examine you thoroughly, and may order a diagnostic test such as a CT scan or MRI, to see what is causing your symptoms.

Vertigo is broken down into two different types, or categories. Peripheral vertigo concerns problems with the inner ear, while central vertigo indicates a problem in the brain.

In order to maintain balance, the vestibular system sends signals to the brain relaying the position of the head in relation to movement. A disruption in these signals causes peripheral vertigo. Labyrinthitis (an inflammation of the inner ear labyrinth and vestibular nerve) and vestibular neuronitis (an inflammation of the vestibular nerve only) are two conditions often responsible for this type of vertigo. Others include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), when tiny calcium pieces break off from the otolithic membrane of the inner ear and float in the semicircular canas; and Meniere’s disease, characterized by excess pressure of the fluid in the inner ear.

Disturbances to the brainstem or cerebellum, which are responsible for interactions between the visual and balance systems, cause central vertigo. The most common trigger is a migraine headache. Others include acoustic neuroma, stroke, tumors, multiple sclerosis, alcohol, and some drugs.

Treatment for vertigo depends on the type, severity, and underlying cause. Sometimes, it disappears on its own without intervention. BPPV, the single most common trigger, can be controlled with positional head maneuvers, while other types respond well to medications or physical therapy.