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Everything you need to know about benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

Woman having a vertigo session

Have you ever had the sudden sensation that the room is spinning? If so, you may have experienced benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Here’s what you should know.

What is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo?

BPPV is an inner ear disorder that causes brief episodes of mild to intense dizziness. BPPV can affect people of all ages but it’s most common in people over the age of 60.

Episodes of BPPV are usually triggered by changes in your head’s position like tipping your head forward and back, lying down, rolling over or sitting up in bed.

What causes BPPV?

BPPV develops when calcium carbonate crystals, also known as otoconia, come loose from their usual location on the utricle, a sensory organ in the inner ear that helps you keep your balance. However, once detached, these crystals flow freely in the fluid-filled spaces of the inner ear, sending incorrect signals to your brain about your head’s position, and thus triggering feelings of vertigo.

BPPV commonly occurs following head trauma as the impact can cause debris in the inner ear canals to break free. However, it can also occur without a real cause.

Symptoms of BPPV

The symptoms of BPPV usually only last a few minutes and can range from dizziness and light-headedness to nausea and vomiting. However, these symptoms can be frightening. For example, people often think they’re having a stroke.

Additionally, the symptoms of BPPV can be dangerous, especially for elderly people, as they may accidentally fall out of bed or lose their balance when getting up or walking around.

Diagnosing BPPV

Your doctor can usually diagnose BPPV vertigo by asking you several questions and performing the Dix-Hallpike test.

To do so, your doctor will ask you to sit upright on an exam table with your legs stretched out in front of you and your head turned to one side. You’ll then be asked to lower your head and lie down with your head stretched slightly off the edge of the exam table and one ear turned down at a 45-degree angle.

While you’re lying back, your doctor will check for eye movement called nystagmus, which can indicate dizziness. They’ll then ask you questions about how you’re feeling before switching sides and testing the opposite ear. In most people, only one ear is affected by BPPV.

If your vertigo is triggered by these head manoeuvres, you likely have BPPV.

Treatment for BPPV

Fortunately, BPPV is not a sign of a serious problem and usually disappears on its own within six weeks. However, your doctor may perform a series of movements known as Epley and Semont manoeuvres to help relieve some of the symptoms of BPPV.

These movements can help dislodge the calcium crystals in your inner ear and move them to an area where they won’t trigger your vertigo and can be reabsorbed into the body.

Most people only need one 10- to 15-minute session. However, others may require multiple treatments to get rid of their vertigo. Your doctor will also likely teach you how to perform these exercises on yourself so that you can treat your benign paroxysmal positional vertigo at home.

If this BPPV treatment doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend surgical intervention. The procedure involves using a bone plug to block the portion of your inner ear that’s causing dizziness thereby preventing your ear from responding to head movements.

BPPV and hearing loss

BPPV doesn’t cause hearing loss. However, if you’re experiencing dizziness and hearing loss together, you should see a doctor or audiologist as you may be suffering from another condition.

Furthermore, since sound helps you orient yourself and navigate your environment, hearing aids can often relieve the symptoms of vertigo. Hearing aids can also help relieve dizziness by equalizing the hearing in both your ears.

Trusted hearing clinic in Alberta

If you have trouble hearing and often experience vertigo, the experienced team of audiologists and hearing aid practitioners at Soundwave Hearing Care can help. We offer comprehensive hearing tests and can help you find the right hearing device to improve your quality of life. For more information about our products and services, please contact us at one of our locations in Calgary, Lethbridge, High River or Grande Prairie.

All the blogs are reviewed and edited by our clinic's lead audiologist, Dr. Anne Wooliams. Dr. Woolliams is an experienced audiologist specialized in pediatric audiology, auditory processing, and tinnitus/sound sensitivity therapy. She is dedicated to providing top-notch hearing care and helping her clients improve their language and communication abilities. Dr. Woolliams' expertise in literature and linguistics, combined with her passion for helping people improve their language and communication, make her an incredibly valuable asset in the field of audiology. Learn more about Dr. Woolliams.