Director, Ménière’s Society
Debbie Cane MSc CS
Senior Clinical Scientist and Audiology Lecturer (Withington Community Hospital and Manchester University)
Chronic dizziness is an often-hidden disability that can result from a number of different inner ear (vestibular) disorders.
Patients with chronic (inner ear) dizziness can experience recurrent acute attacks of spinning (lasting minutes to days), movement-evoked imbalance or constant low-level dizziness. Additionally, they may experience hearing loss, migraine headache, tinnitus (noises in the ears), a feeling of pressure in the ears and nausea or vomiting.
Dizziness (of which dysfunction of the inner ear is a significant cause) is common and can profoundly affect people of all ages. A study of adults aged 18-64 showed 23% experienced dizziness with just under half of these reporting a degree of handicap from their symptoms.1
Living in fear
These often life-changing disorders can have a major impact on day-to-day living for a large number of those affected. Many who experience chronic dizziness fear going out. They worry about having an attack of dizziness in public, whether they will vomit or fall, or be labelled as intoxicated by those who don’t understand. This anxiety can exacerbate sensations of dizziness, resulting in a vicious cycle.
One sufferer says: “During an attack I look like I am drunk or drugged and have absolutely no control over my body. It totally incapacitates me”.
People who experience chronic dizziness tell us they feel their symptoms are not fully understood. They often report family and friends don’t understand what they are going through, due to the hidden nature of the symptoms which can occur at any time, sometimes without warning.
A study of adults aged 18-64 showed 23% experienced dizziness with just under half of these reporting a degree of handicap from their symptoms.1
What can be done
There are lots that can be done to help patients with chronic dizziness. Balance retraining exercises, specialised physiotherapeutic manoeuvres, holistic techniques (e.g. breathing/relaxation exercises, yoga and mindfulness) and in some cases medication, may all be useful depending on the diagnosis.
Getting the right treatment in a timely manner means, for most, symptoms completely resolve and the patient can resume a normal life. Many vestibular disorders, however, are complex and getting the correct diagnosis and treatment can sometimes be difficult. Although more research is needed, funding is often limited. Raising awareness of vestibular disorders, their impact and treatment is fundamental.
If you are experiencing dizziness you should see your GP who may refer you to an ENT doctor or other specialist for further investigations and management.
Where to go for help
1 Yardley L, Owen N, Nazareth I, Luxon L. Prevalence and presentation of dizziness in a general practice community sample of working age people. British Journal of General Practice. 1998;48:1131–1135.