Thursday, April 11, 2013

Do You Have Rocks in Your Head? Vertigo?

"Do you have rocks in your head?" That was my Mother's question when we were doing or thinking something crazy. Turns out she was on to something!

Back in 1982 I had a sudden, scary episode of severe vertigo. I thought I was having a stroke; I thought I was dying. It took a very long time to figure out what was happening to me, and in the end it turned out to be a not-so-serious condition called "Benign Positional Vertigo" or "Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo." The acronyms for this conditrion are BPP or BPPV.

Now vertigo is a dizziness beyond any dizziness. I think the closest you can come to it is the experience you had as a kid spinning around until your were so dizzy you couldn't stand up. The paroxysms can cause you to vomit and will trigger a strange rhythmic jerking or twitching of the eyes called "nystagmus." What seemed to trigger it for me was head position. When the condition was finally diagnosed by an ENT doctor, he gave me a sheaf of papers instructing me in exercises that would "wear out the reflex." The exercises gradually worked.

What I have found out is that my Mother's old question, "Do you have rocks in your head?" was literally true in my case. Here's my somewhat-less-than-scientific description of what happens in this type of vertigo. Tiny "rocks," possibly made from calcium, known as "otoliths," are loosed from their normal location and are rolling around the semicircular canals of the inner ear, somehow triggering the vertigo.

A brilliant invention that treats many cases of BPV is the "Epley Maneuver," which is something a physical therapist, physician, or even an individual could do. There are many Youtube demonstrations of this maneuver and I will post one below.

I imagine that it is best for individuals experiencing this kind of discombobulating vertigo to see a physician to rule out more serious conditions. It is comforting to know that this type of vertigo is often benign, not-so-serious, and easily treated.

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