Dizziness & Balance

Dizziness is one of the leading health complaints in the United States, affecting an estimated nine million people annually. For those over the age of 70 it’s the top reason for a visit to the doctor’s office—not surprising given the danger of falls in the elderly population.

Dizziness is actually a blanket term used to describe any feeling of unsteadiness.

It occurs when the brain incorrectly senses movement that is not occurring. Dizziness may take the form of lightheadedness or vertigo; though many view these as similar conditions, each has a unique set of symptoms.

Causes of Dizziness

Dizziness is the result of your brain receiving false signals from the balance system (comprised of the inner ear, eyes and sensory nerves). It senses movement and overcompensates, leading to a spinning sensation, weakness, faintness and more. There are many possible causes of dizziness including low blood pressure, anemia, dehydration, heat-related disorders, endocrine system disorders (e.g., diabetes, thyroid disease), heart conditions, high blood pressure, viral and bacterial infections, head trauma, hyperventilation, neurological disorders and certain medications.

Several balance disorders are commonly associated with dizziness and/or vertigo. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) involves brief but intense periods of vertigo that are triggered by specific changes in head position. It occurs when tiny crystals in the otolith organs become dislodged and migrate to the semicircular canals. Meniere’s disease is a chronic condition that causes vertigo, tinnitus, fullness in the ear and fluctuating hearing loss that may eventually become permanent. Meniere’s is usually confined to one ear and though its cause is unknown it may be the result of abnormal fluid buildup in the inner ear. Labyrinthitis is an inflammation of the inner ear usually caused by an infection. Its symptoms include vertigo, temporary hearing loss and tinnitus.

Balance Disorders: Symptoms & Treatment

Patients who experience dizziness report a variety of symptoms depending on the exact nature of their balance disorder. These include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Unsteadiness
  • Weakness
  • Vertigo (the sensation of movement in your surroundings)
  • Confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Blurred vision

Treatment for dizziness takes many forms, depending on the cause. Your physician will try to target the underlying condition in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Options include medications (antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics, steroids), physical or occupational therapy, surgery, repositioning exercises, vestibular retraining programs and lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and elimination of alcohol and nicotine).