Dizziness is a term that describes many different feelings in the head. It can range from a visual graying-out that heralds an oncoming faint, to seeing the room spin violently. Fainting is usually the result of low blood flow to the head, or lack of oxygen to the brain, so it is important to distinguish this from ear or brain balance disorders, which patients also describe as dizziness but have completely different treatments. Feelings of abnormal movement (called vertigo), such as a spinning feeling inside the head or actually seeing the room spin, are characteristic of inner ear disorders. Brain disorders like migraine, strokes and multiple sclerosis can also cause a sensation of motion but usually have other symptoms as well.
The inner ears and brain do not merely sense movement; they also send reflexes to the body to control balance while standing and walking. Any time there is a disorder in this system, balance can become impaired and falls are more likely.
An evaluation for dizziness consists first of taking a history of symptoms. An examination of the ears and neurologic system helps detect abnormalities of the balance system. There are several specialized tests of hearing and balance that can pinpoint the parts of the inner ear or brain that are involved. All these clues are brought together by neuro-otologic practitioners to make a diagnosis.
Treatment of these conditions depends upon the cause. Some can be treated immediately in the office with simple exercises; others may require medications for a short course or over a long period. Serious disorders can involve surgical correction. Neuro-otologists partner with audiologists, physical therapists and other physicians to optimize care in these complex cases.
Call UCHealth Hearing & Balance at (720) 848-2800 for more information or to schedule an appointment.