Dizziness is a very common problem, with some studies suggesting more than four out of ten Americans will seek medical attention for dizziness at some point in life. A common cause of dizziness can be due to disruption of the inner ear, also known as the vestibular system.
The term dizziness has many meanings, and feels different to different people. Some people describe a spinning sensation, others a sense of disorientation, or difficulty walking in a straight line.
Describing your symptoms accurately can mean the difference between a successful diagnosis and one that is missed.
- Dizziness is a sensation of lightheadedness, faintness, or unsteadiness.
- Vertigo is the perception of the room spinning or moving around you.
- Disequilibrium is the loss of equilibrium. It can be experienced as feeling off-balance or a sensation of spatial disorientation.
Dizziness does not always require medical attention, and most people have expereinced some form of dizziness throughout their lives. For example, most people have had a sudden sense of dizziness when they stand up too fast. Sometimes a sense of disequilibrium is felt is you are on a train platform and momentarily has an illusion of moving as a train rushes past. However, if the dizziness is long lasting, or intense, this can begin to affect your independence, ability to work, and quality of life. This is the point when medical assistant should be sought.
Dizziness, vertigo, and disequilibrium are all symptoms that can result from a problem with part of your vestibular system. There are two types of vestibular disorders:
• Peripheral vestibular disorders, which affect parts of the inner ear
• Central vestibular disorders, which affect parts of the brain that process balance and spatial information.
How Do I Know If I Need Help?
If you’re still having a hard time deciding if you should talk to your doctor, ask yourself these questions:
Do I feel like I…
- Am unsteady?
- May lose my balance and fall?
- Am falling?
- Can see the room spinning around me?
- Get dizzy when I lay down or turn over in bed?
- Am moving when I know I’m sitting or standing still?
- Get lightheaded, or as if I might faint?
- Have blurred vision?
- Get disoriented, such as losing my sense of time or where I am?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to seek medical help.
Take Your Balance Seriously
Balance disorders may lead to other problems, including fatigue, difficulty walking, problems with memory and/or focus, depression, and social isolation. Talk to your primary care doctor and be specific about what symptoms you have and when they occur. You may also want to ask for a referral to a vestibular specialist, which may be an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor or a neurologist, depending on your symptoms. Further vestibular testing conducted by an audiologist, or physical therapist is common.