What is Vertigo Like?

It is Balance Awareness Week1, so I figured it was a good time to describe the experience of vertigo.

Ecsher - Relativity
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Ecsher – Relativity

Vertigo is just one of those things, you never forget your first time. It was April 30th 2014 and I was at a conference. I had been having lots of difficulty with my ears lots of pressure and increases in my tinnitus. Based on having issues with my ears since childhood I asked my primary care doctor for steroids for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction2. My allergies had been terrible, so this made sense to me. Walking through the halls of the administrative building where the conference was held at points was like an Esher painting. The stairs were too steep, the pattern in the carpet seemed to move under me.  I felt awful, dizzy even, but I excused it as allergies.

On the way home I had agreed to get in some home visits before the month closed out. The first was down a winding road through the country. It was raining, and the wipers were making it hard for me to concentrate. I was tired so I thought my eyes weren’t tracking properly. Then it happened, The world appeared to move with the wipers but it didn’t stop for a moment and come back, everything kept moving clockwise, and seemed blurred in the rain. I realized there was a car coming I could see it but just couldn’t tell where it was, so I turned the wheel slightly until I felt my tires at the edge of the road.

It was terrifying, and my cellphone was dying, and I thought I was crazy and just seeing things. The world kept moving and I crawled down the road. I was so stunned by the experience that I just shook in my car and drove around a shopping center looking for a place to buy another car charger for my phone. The spin cycle repeated periodically over the next few days and we finally named it vertigo.

To describe vertigo I liken it to various carnival rides, each comprising of a part of the vertigo experience. Vertigo is like walking through a fun house, after just having gotten of the tilt-a-whirl and feeling like your being flown back by a ride that uses centrifugal force.



Oh, and while everything looks like it’s spinning, the ground feels unsteady and you feel like your walking against hurricane force winds you are trying to go about your day. Those of us with vertigo often need to eat like this, drink water like this, make it to the bathroom like this, walk like this, have conversations like this.

Not surprisingly vertigo is exhausting, and when we’re lucky enough that we can function on some level while we’re experiencing it we also tend to be a bit distracted as so much of our brain function is going towards correcting how we see the world.

Each disorder that causes vertigo is different in terms of the duration of vertigo spells, other accompanying symptoms, and available options for treatment, Vertigo can also either be caused by the inner ear, or it can be caused by the brain. I have two different conditions that cause vertigo: Meniere’s Disease, and Migraine Associated Vertigo.

Linked at the end of this article are articles I have written on each condition. Though in short:

Meniere’s Disease is a progressive and incurable condition of the inner ear. It causes periodic attacks of symptoms that cause changes in hearing such as temporary hearing loss and tinnitus, and usually full rotary vertigo where everything feels like it is violently spinning. The vertigo episodes with Meniere’s last 30 minutes to hours. Overtime the condition often leads to permanent hearing loss and loss of vestibular function.

Migraine Associated Vertigo (MAV), also known as Vestibular Migraine, ranges from dizziness to full rotary vertigo. MAV also tends to involve difficulties with equilibrium and is often triggered and/or worsened by visual stimuli or motion. The majority of MAV sufferers have a history of chronic migraine though the severity and frequency of the headaches does not necessary correspond with the severity of the vestibular symptoms.

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