Diagnosing dizziness

Have you ever felt dizzy? Chances are you have. More than a third of all Americans 40 and older — some 69 million people — have reported feeling dizzy at some point. Older people are even more prone to feeling dizzy.

So what is dizziness? It’s a sensation of feeling off-balance or unsteady, a sensation of swaying or rocking. Sometimes it’s a heavy or foggy feeling. Vertigo is a type of dizziness. It’s the sensation that the world is spinning around you. Vertigo always comes and goes, whereas, in some people, dizziness can be a constant sensation.

Dizziness, of course, can affect balance and equilibrium. Balance is maintained by a complex interaction of vision, the inner ear (vestibular system) and muscle and joint sensory receptors, known as the proprioceptive system. The symptoms of dizziness occur when the central nervous system gets conflicting messages from any of these systems.

As a result, dizziness can have many different causes. If you feel lightheaded or faint, it could be from a drop in blood pressure due to inadequate blood flow from the heart. Vertigo, or spinning, usually occurs from a sudden or temporary change in the inner ear or balance structures connected to the brain. Some causes of vertigo are benign positional paroxysmal vertigo (BPPV), inflammation of the inner ear, Meniere’s disease, vestibular migraine or an acoustic neuroma.

A comprehensive medical evaluation can pinpoint what is causing dizziness, vertigo or a balance problem. To reach an accurate diagnosis, it’s important to try to accurately describe the feeling and sensations you’re experiencing during a dizzy spell. That and your medical history will be used to order diagnostic tests performed by an audiologist to assess your vestibular system function.

Some risk factors may increase the risk of getting dizzy. Dizziness in those older than 65 years of age is more common and persistent. Older people are more likely to have medical conditions that cause dizziness. Also, some medications such as blood pressure-lowering drugs, anti-seizure medicines, sedatives and tranquilizers can cause dizziness. If you’ve previously had a dizzy episode, you’re at higher risk for another one in the future.

A balance disorder can affect lives in many ways. The balance system is integral to normal daily function. A damaged or diseased system affects how someone feels and is able to perform everyday activities. It can limit independence, impact the ability to work, and interfere with the quality of life.

Should you or someone you know experience any dizziness, vertigo or imbalance, the audiologists at the Hearing and Balance Center at University Health System can help identify the cause and put you on a path to relief.

Madalyn Rash, AuD CCC-A is an audiologist at University Health System

Photo courtesy Eelffica/pixabay