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What is vertigo?

What is vertigo?
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It’s the feeling of false movement – as if the world is spinning like a carnival ride and you can’t get off.

It is a symptom of many conditions and diseases that target the inner ear, according to the National Organisation for Rare Disorders (NORD). They include:

  • benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Ménière’s disease
  • ear infections

Other conditions that can cause vertigo involve the central nervous system. These include:

  • multiple sclerosis
  • concussion
  • alcohol or medication toxicity
  • stroke
  • viral meningitis

The vertigo treatment that’s right for you will likely depend on the root cause of your condition.” An accurate diagnosis is essential, especially to rule out central nervous system causes. Diagnosis most commonly includes an MRI of the brain. Audiology tests of the workings of the ear can also be helpful,” says neurologist, Arif Dalvi.

But be sure to also rule out these hidden medical conditions that could be making you dizzy.

Consider vestibular rehabilitation

Consider vestibular rehabilitation
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Many of the conditions which cause vertigo affect the vestibular system, a pathway located within the inner ear which regulates balance, equilibrium and spatial orientation. According to VeDA – a group focused on inner ear disorders – vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) can be effective at reducing vertigo and dizziness. VRT is an exercise-based program customised for each patient. The exercises focus on improving balance, reducing dizziness and dealing with other symptoms of vertigo. Your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist for this program.

Aside from persistent dizzy spells, here are 41 strange symptoms that could signal a serious disease.

Try the Epley manoeuvre

Try the Epley manoeuvre
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“For benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a vestibular exercise called the Epley manoeuvre can be helpful,” says Dr Dalvi. BPPV is the most common cause of vertigo, and it’s the result of calcium crystals (otoconia) coming loose in the inner ear. According to the Mayo Clinic, the manoeuvre (also called “canalith repositioning“) is best performed by a medical professional because of the risk of neck or back injury. By laying back and then shifting the head, the process moves the crystals to a less sensitive area where they can be reabsorbed by the body. Your doctor will prescribe the Epley manoeuvre for right or left side BPPV.

Change your diet

Change your diet
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When migraines include vestibular symptoms such as dizziness, loss of balance and vertigo, they are called vestibular migraines. Alterations in your diet may be a good initial vertigo treatment. Changes in diet that help prevent migraines can reduce or even eliminate vertigo and other vestibular symptoms associated with this type of headache, according to VeDA. “From a dietary standpoint, it is important to avoid alcohol, foods high in salt, and excessive caffeine, as any of these can make symptoms worse,” says Dr Derek Bennetsen, emergency physician.

Here are 7 clear signs you’re eating too much salt. 

Gently ride out the storm

Gently ride out the storm
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Your vertigo may clear up on its own. Sometimes, says Dr Bennetsen, all you need is to lie down and remain calm and quiet. “Vertigo may be alleviated by remaining still, and limiting changes in position as much as possible,” says Dr Bennetsen. In a dark, quiet room, lie still taking care not to move your head or even your eyes, he says. Even if your symptoms resolve on their own, you’ll still want to get checked out, he advises.

Take an antihistamine

Take an antihistamine
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As the name suggests, antihistamines block the effects of histamine, which can cause allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and vertigo. Internal medicine specialist, Lisa Ashe, recommends trying over-the-counter Benadryl or the prescription meclizine.

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Migraine medicines may help

Migraine medicines may help
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A study published in Otology & Neurotology in 2018 suggests that preventative medications for migraine, including tricyclic antidepressants, were effective in decreasing dizziness and vertigo in patients.

Learn how to survive the 8 different types of migraine.

Try sedatives

Try sedatives
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According to The American College of Cardiology (ACC), sedatives may reduce the spinning associated with vertigo by calming down brain activity and reducing anxiety. Dr Ashe recommends benzodiazepines, such as Valium, Ativan and Xanax. These medications may be a particularly effective vertigo treatment for reducing vertigo caused by inner ear problems, the ACC notes.

Diuretics for Ménière’s disease

Diuretics for Ménière’s disease
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Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder that can trigger vertigo. Doctors often prescribe so-called water pills – diuretic medication – and a low-salt diet, says Dr Bennetsen: “This is because the condition is thought to be the result of an excessive build-up of endolymph fluid, in the inner ear.”

Here are 14 effective tinnitus treatments to try if you have ringing in the ears.

Antiviral medications may help

Antiviral medications may help
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Do you get earaches? Inner ear infections can lead to dizziness and – unlike middle-ear infections – a virus may be responsible. Occasionally, a systemic viral infection like mononucleosis, herpes or the flu can lead to vertigo, according to Cleveland Clinic. “Viral infections may respond to antiviral medications, alleviating symptoms,” says Dr Dalvi. Examples of anti-viral drugs include Tamiflu and Acyclovir.

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