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Benign positional vertigo (BPV) is the most common cause of vertigo. It causes a sudden sensation of spinning. It can also make you feel like your head is spinning from the inside.
If you have BPV, you can have brief periods of mild or intense dizziness. An episode is generally triggered by changing the position of your head. In particular, the following actions can trigger an episode of BPV:
BPV can be annoying, but it’s rarely serious except when a person falls due to dizziness.
BPV is the result of a disturbance inside your inner ear. Fluid inside tubes in your ear, called semicircular canals, moves when your position changes. The semicircular canals are extremely sensitive.
BPV develops when small crystals of calcium carbonate that are normally in another area of the ear break free and find their way to the semicircular canal in your inner ear. This causes your brain to receive confusing messages about your body’s position.
There are no major risk factors for BPV, but there’s some indication that it could be an inherited condition. Many diagnosed individuals have indicated that multiple relatives also have had the condition.
Prior head injuries, osteoporosis, diabetes, or an inner ear condition can also make some people more prone in developing BPV.
The symptoms of BPV can include:
Symptoms of BPV can come and go. They commonly last less than one minute.
A variety of activities can bring on BPV. However, most symptoms occur when there’s a change in your head’s positioning. Abnormal eye movements, also called nystagmus, usually accompany BPV symptoms. Although it’s extremely rare, you can have BPV in both ears.
In some extreme cases of BPV, people can develop dehydration due to vomiting.
Your doctor can diagnose BPV by performing a test called the Dix-Hallpike maneuver. Your doctor will hold your head in a certain position while asking you to rapidly lie down with your back over a table. They’ll look for abnormal eye movements during this test, and they may ask you if you’re experiencing a spinning sensation.
Your doctor will also give you a general physical exam. They’ll get a complete medical history and perform a neurological exam to rule out any other disorders or diseases.
Additional tests might include:
Some doctors consider the Epley maneuver to be the most effective BPV treatment. The Epley maneuver is an exercise you can try at home. It involves moving the piece of calcium carbonate to a different part of your inner ear where it will no longer cause problems.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to relieve spinning sensations. These drugs may include:
However, medications are often not effective in treating vertigo.
There are steps you can take to manage the dizziness associated with BPV.
Losing your balance is always a possibility. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid placing yourself at risk. Falls can cause serious injuries.
Whenever you feel dizzy, take a seat. Sitting down during a dizzy spell can help you avoid falling. You should also take precautions such as using good lighting around the home and using a cane for stability.
Also, learn what triggers your episodes. Preventing symptoms of vertigo from becoming worse during episodes of BPV can be as simple as avoiding the positions that trigger it.
It may be necessary to call your doctor if the treatment for vertigo isn’t working or if you develop weakness, slurred speech, or vision problems.
Keep in mind that symptoms of BPV can sometimes be related to other, more serious conditions.
Living with the condition can be challenging. It can affect relationships with friends and family, productivity at work, and quality of life. BPV is uncomfortable but manageable, and it usually improves with time. Unfortunately, BPV can occur again after successful treatment, and it may return without warning. There’s no cure for BPV.
Written by: Bree Normandin and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Nov 03, 2015: Debra Sullivan, PhD, RN, CNE, COI
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