Imagine if when you woke up this morning you’d gotten out of bed and fell to the floor because you’d lost all sense of balance. You’d probably feel scared to say the least. Worse still, imagine then going through the rest of the day feeling dizzy and experiencing a constant spinning sensation that made you feel like the ground was tilting each time you took a step. Or try imagining what it would feel like to suddenly be placed on a roller coaster that won’t stop and you’ll begin to understand how alarming vertigo can be.
These distressing symptoms can last anywhere from a few minutes to several days at a time. Its similar to the swaying sensation you experience on a boat in choppy waters but instead occurs when youre on solid ground. Vertigo develops when the centre that regulates your sense of balance in the brain specifically your inner ear becomes unstable.
Inside the inner part of your ear there are tiny tubes containing minuscule hair-like organs attached to small stone crystals. When you move, the stone on top of each hair sways and the hair bends to one side. This stimulates your brain to feel the sensation of movement. If this process becomes unbalanced then vertigo can result.
Vertigo is a symptom and not a disease and its important to see your doctor as soon as it develops to establish the cause, especially as it can indicate a brain tumour or mini stroke in rare cases. Common causes include viral infections of the inner ear, age-related thickening of the small arteries inside your brain or ear and dehydration.
It is important to be aware that certain medications, such as steroids, diuretics and blood pressure lowering drugs, can also cause the condition to develop as a side effect. If youre currently taking any of these types of medication and suddenly start experiencing the symptoms of vertigo then you should consult your doctor straight away, as the dosage may need to be adjusted or a different form of medication prescribed.
Conventional treatments arent always successful
Depending on the cause, your doctor will probably treat the condition with drugs such as betahistine and prochlorperazine, which improve the condition of the inner ear and help combat nausea which often accompanies dizziness. However, these drugs can cause several unpleasant side effects, such as a dry mouth, blurred vision and the retention of urine. In addition, these drugs fail to work in certain patients.
Surgery is performed as a last resort for more serious forms of vertigo. This involves drilling holes in your inner ear to drain fluid, but can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, and does not necessarily guarantee successful results.
Fortunately there are some excellent alternative treatments available that can help without causing harmful side effects.
Ginkgo biloba improves vertigo by increasing the supply of blood to your inner ear
Gingko, the extract of the maidenhair tree, is one of the most effective treatments for vertigo, not only because it increases blood flow to your brain, but also because it can repair damage that has already occurred in your inner ear.
At the end of a three month study involving 67 people with vertigo, 47 per cent of participants taking 160mg of ginkgo biloba every day made a full recovery, compared with just 18 per cent in the placebo group
In a study performed at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne, scientists compared the effects of ginkgo biloba to a German proprietary homoeopathic remedy called Vertigoheel.
One hundred and seventy patients aged between 60 and 80 took part in the study. They were all suffering from vertigo caused by atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries inside the inner ear). Approximately half of the patients took Vertigoheel and the other half took 120mg of ginkgo biloba. Both treatments were found to be extremely effective in improving vertigo symptoms and were well tolerated by the participants.
The recommended dosage of ginkgo biloba is 120mg of standardised extract taken twice a day.
These supplements can also help to restore your sense of balance
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a plant extract that reduces inflammation processes within your inner ear and improves blood circulation this increases the amount of nutrients and oxygen reaching the parts of your inner ear responsible for maintaining balance. The recommended dosage is one 125mg feverfew capsule taken once a day.
Vinpocetine, the extract of the periwinkle plant, improves the supply of oxygen to your brain, and is extremely beneficial in helping to reduce symptoms of vertigo. Medical trials have shown that vinpocetine may even protect your brain against toxic damage. The recommended dosage of vinpocetine is 15-40 mg a day.
Ginger root extracts are renowned for their ability to help alleviate motion sickness. The recommended dosage is two tablets a day. Lemon balm applied to your skin two or three times a day, has also been shown to have a beneficial effect.
Exercises to help re-train balance centres in your body
Cawthorne Cooksey exercises, named after the doctors who devised them, can help improve symptoms of vertigo. The full range of exercises is available from specialist rehabilitation Ear Nose and Throat clinics. It is best to check with your doctor first before performing these exercises, however, as they may not be suitable for your particular form of vertigo. If they are, then aim to do these exercises three times a day:
- Walk in a circle (approximately four metres in diameter) for about 2-3 minutes at a time.
- Walk in a straight line while throwing and catching a ball with a partner.
- Walk backwards in a straight line. After a while, try to walk backwards with your head tilted to one side.
- Lie down on the floor and roll from side to side, first with eyes open and then with eyes closed.
Make sure your diet isn’t making the problem worse
Practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine believe that vertigo is the result of excessive wind and a build-up of phlegm. For this reason, they recommend avoiding foods that increase phlegm such as fatty and processed foods, sugary foods and margarine. They also encourage the consumption of foods believed to reduce wind, such as chamomile, celery, basil, and coconuts.
This is similar to the advice given by nutritionists in the West, as they recommended cutting out all refined carbohydrates (like cakes, biscuits, white bread and pasta) and other sugary foods. This is especially vital if the cause of vertigo is related to a blood sugar imbalance the condition is particularly prevalent in diabetic patients. It is also common in those with high cholesterol levels so keep your intake of saturated fats (such as lard and whole milk) to a minimum and eat more healthy fats (such as oily fish and avocadoes) instead.
Some nutritionists claim that cutting down on saturated fats and sugary foods alone dramatically reduces your risk of vertigo.
Make sure you consume plenty of fruits and vegetables too, which protect the tissues in your inner ear and improve blood circulation.
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