Healthy Living: VERTIGO

By Christine Harness

Dizziness is a strange sensation. Your body and the room around you are spinning; you feel lightheaded, unsteady, and you mistrust trying to continue your activity. Some people even feel nauseous. One of the most common causes of dizziness for all age groups is hyperventilation, overbreathing, usually due to anxiety. When you over breathe, you blow off large amounts of carbon dioxide, resulting in a lower level of the chemical in your blood. Dr. Venna reports that carbon dioxide is a powerful stimulant for the blood getting to the brain, and without it, blood flow is decreased and dizziness occurs. We’ve all enjoyed witnessing small children, spinning ‘round and around, giggling with delight as they get themselves light headed on the park spinning wheel.
Vertigo, a false sensation of movement of oneself or your surroundings, a spinning or wheeling sensation is not a diagnosis but is a description of this sensation. Only 5 – 6 percent of doctors’ visits are for this problem, yet 40 percent of people over 40 require or seek medical attention. Elderly people experience vertigo lasting over a month and it frequently contributes to potentially injurious falls.

Following my shoulder replacement surgery last June, I experienced a serious bout of vertigo and found myself awakening early in the morning, turning to my right side using my routine ‘log roll,’ bending both knees and sitting upright with a sudden onset of spinning light headedness. As I made my way towards the bathroom, I found I needed to support myself by reaching my hand to lean against each piece of furniture and the doorway frame, expecting I might fall. At first, I suspected these episodes were a result of the medications I had taken, yet I took so few that this called for a visit to my doctor for proper diagnosis. He concluded that I had developed a condition known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV and prescribed physical therapy for further evaluation and treatment. I was not surprised to learn that our physical therapy staff at Kern Valley Hospital’s outpatient therapy clinic have had special training in the advanced and current treatment of vertigo. Diane’s thorough evaluation of my condition confirmed the diagnosis of and we proceeded with the prescribed exercises. She issued me illustrated handouts to support my home exercise program and I faithfully followed them. What a relief, awakening early one morning, bringing myself to a full standing position with no longer feeling those awful symptoms!
Researchers, doctors and therapists explain that these symptoms result when calcium carbonate crystals normally embedded in your inner ear become dislodged and displaced. If you explore YouTube, you can quickly learn about the Dix-Hallpike maneuver which is the ‘gold standard’ procedure for diagnosing BPPV, the Brand-Daroff series of head balance exercises the Semont and the Epley maneuvers used by doctors and therapists. Patients are encouraged to not put off getting medical attention for this uncomfortable sensation and will often find, as I did, only a few treatments may be all that is required for dislodging and correcting this condition.