It happened while rising from bed: a gigantic magnet sucked me back in. Hard.
During my morning ritual, heavy nausea rose into my throat as I bent my head over the sink. The symptoms slightly subsided as I headed into the day, but intermittently, I was forced to get help when I walked up and down staircases.
The next day, my pal saw me struggling in the bleachers at my son’s netball game. I told her what had happened, and she said:
“I think you have salt crystals. Call my colleague just to make sure; she’s specially trained for diagnosing this complaint.”
Her colleague, the physiotherapist, confirmed the diagnosis: I had a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). When I mentioned it to family and friends, I found out that I wasn’t alone—even though I had never heard of it.
My neighbor, for example, was hospitalized because the symptoms were so unusual and severe for someone her age (30-something). Her caregivers didn’t know what she had—and that’s why I’m telling you about it.
Here’s a rundown on symptoms, why they occur, why BPPV is called what it’s called, and what to do about it:
BPPV symptoms include confusion/disorientation, imbalance/instability, nausea, spaced out or detached feelings and vertigo/dizziness.
Normally, the symptoms aren’t constant during the day, unless you move your head in ways that trigger the symptoms. If you keep your head still, then the symptoms usually dwindle in 30–60 seconds. Vertigo is the main symptom, and it can occur when turning in bed, sitting, standing or looking up and down.
Your inner ear contains fluid-filled canals that are positioned on varying angles.
When your head moves, fluid flows inside these canals and tells the brain exactly how far, how fast and in what direction your head is moving. Medical people think that tiny calcium carbonate crystals in the canals cause BPPV by disrupting normal fluid flow.
Normally, the crystals are stored in special reservoirs in the inner ear’s other structures. Injury or degeneration might dislodge them, for example: head trauma, inner ear aging and Meniere’s disease.
My neighbor had a bad cold before she got BPPV and suspects that cold-related head congestion caused the crystals to dislodge and float around where they didn’t belong. I have no idea what triggered mine.
BPPV got its name for these reasons:
- Benign: because the condition almost always goes away.
- Paroxysmal: because the condition could come back and trigger symptoms without warning.
- Positional: because specific types of head movements trigger it.
- Vertigo: because it’s the main symptom, namely, a mild—or violent—spinning sensation.
If you experience the aforementioned symptoms, go to your medical care provider on a day when you have them, because BPPV isn’t easy to diagnose/confirm.
I didn’t, however, and the BPPV disappeared in a few weeks. Five years after my episode, another friend was given a series of exercises.
They did the job, and the BPPV never returned. Medications are sometimes prescribed, but they don’t cure BPPV, they just reduce symptoms.
Surgery is very rare.
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Asst. Ed: Meagan Edmondson/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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