Have you ever experienced a dizziness where the world feels like it is spinning around you? It might be due to a common condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV.
It’s something that can be treated very successfully with a technique used by doctors and physical therapists with a simple procedure called the Epley maneuver, developed in 1980 by Dr. John Epley in Portland, Ore.
But let’s first talk about what is happening when people experience this dizziness.
Inside our ears are three semi-circular canals that help you maintain your balance and determine your head’s position when you move it, even when your eyes are closed. They are like miniature hula-hoops that are filled with a fairly thick fluid and little hairs that are attached to the inside walls.
The little hairs are attached to nerves that go to your brain and communicate with your eyes.
Another part of the inner ear (the utricle) has little crystals in it called otoconia. These crystals normally detect movement of your body forward, backwards and side to side.
Sometimes with age, hitting your head, or increased pressure inside of your ears, these crystals can break loose. When this happens they become free floating and can travel up into the semi-circular canals. This is when your doctor might tell you that you have “loose rocks in your head.”
Sometimes these crystals will float around and eventually land on the little hairs in the canals. In doing so, this can cause the hairs to send false signals to the brain about your head’s orientation translating to your dizzy feelings.
Because the inner ear is wired to your brain and eyes, people experiencing symptoms of vertigo often state that the “room is spinning,” and anyone else looking at that person may notice their eyes moving back and forth rapidly. This phenomenon is known as temporary nystagmus and is a good indicator of vertigo.
If your dizziness happens when bending forward, or rising, rolling or lying in bed, then you may have vertigo.
This can often be treated successfully (sometimes in one visit) with the Epley maneuver. What a doctor or physical therapist will try to do is get those “rocks” off the little hairs, out of the canals, and back to where they came from.
Once they are out, it may take 48 hours for them to stick back to the utricle. If you have these symptoms, you should call your provider and ask for help.
Brett Jenks is a doctor of physical therapy with Walla Walla General Hospital.