All in a spin? Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

27th September 2018

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) affects 9 in every 100 adults. To unpick the name further, this is a harmless condition that comes and goes, depending on the position you are in which causes rotational dizziness.

The key question to ask yourself if you think you have BPPV is “what happens when I roll over in bed?”. Ask anyone who suffers with BPPV what they feel on turning over in bed they will be able to recall an awful feeling of the room spinning and spinning and then it stops. All they can do is hold onto the bed until it passes. You can sometimes feel like you will vomit or find it difficult to focus your vision.

What causes BPPV?

We know BPPV is due to tiny crystals in the semi-circular canals floating around in the inner ear. When turning your head, the crystals move through the fluid in your inner ear and this gives you the sensation of spinning. The ear canals are normally coated in these crystals. We know head injury or an inner ear infection (labyrinthitis) can break these crystals off and so trigger BPPV. However, in many cases, the trigger is not known.

What is the treatment?

The important thing about BPPV is that no matter what the cause, the condition is treatable. This is when it is best to see your GP. Your GP will be able to work through a series of (Epley) manoeuvres to try and move the crystals on to an area in the ear where they won’t cause any problems. These manoeuvres can even be taught to you so that you can do them at home and fix yourself! But remember, BPPV can come back. Within 3 years, 50% of people experience a recurrence of BPPV. Some people even say it is to do with the weather and can predict when it returns!

Can medication help?

Unfortunately no medication has been proven effective in preventing BPPV or treating it.

Dr Lucy Johnson, Bournemouth, September 2018