If your world is spinning like a tilt-o-whirl, you may have a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). People who have BPPV become intensely dizzy seemingly out of the blue — even glancing up or rolling over in bed can cause extreme vertigo and even nausea. But it’s possible for some people to find relief from BPPV using a series of rather of bizarre-looking movements called Epley’s maneuver.
To understand why it works, first you need to know why BPPV happens. In one part of your inner ear, tiny crystals of calcium carbonate develop over time. They aren’t a problem if they stay put – but if these crystals dislodge and float to another part of the ear, then you’ve got trouble. Even small head movements can cause the loose crystals to trigger inner-ear sensors. It’s like a monkey trying to dial a phone … all sorts of confusing messages are sent to the brain.
What causes the crystals to dislodge in the first place? Researchers don’t know for sure. But if BPPV can be diagnosed, a doctor can lead you through an exercise to move the crystals into another part of the ear chamber where they’ll be out of the way and eventually absorbed by the body … a little like those water-filled puzzles that you tip in order to move the rings onto a stick. The most successful of these is called Epley’s maneuver.
It’s a fairly simple exercise that involves tilting your head and leaning in various directions. The maneuver is even easy enough to try at home—as long as you know how to properly do it. Many people who recognize the onset of BPPV use videos for instruction. One of the most popular is produced by the American Academy of Neurology. But first you have to identify which ear is causing the vertigo (If you get dizzy every time you roll left in bed, then your left ear is the likely culprit). Once you know which ear has the problem floaties, look to that side when you begin the maneuver. You may also need to stabilize your neck after you try it — avoid any extreme movement of the neck for 48 hours.
There are other ways to address the problem. Some people prefer getting from their doctor an anti-vertigo medication that suppresses symptoms. And BPPV cam go away eventually by itself, but it could take weeks.
If Epley’s maneuver doesn’t help, it’s possible that you didn’t do it right, or that the crystals are in a part of your ear canal that requires another simple maneuver (called the Log Roll). But it’s best to leave it to the experts. The advantage of talking to our doctors is that you can confirm you’re treating the correct side and the correct canal. They can pinpoint where the calcium crystals are and how to move them along.