Dizziness When Turning Head

Dizziness can refer to many sensations, such as feeling faint, feeling weak and unsteady, feeling light-headed, feeling confused or emotional or having vertigo. Dizziness is a common experience that may be a symptom of a minor condition, but sometimes, it may be a warning of a serious condition. Then what about feeling dizzy when turning head?

What Causes Dizziness When Turning Head?

People who experience this problem may be suffering from a condition called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This condition causes mild to severe episodes of dizziness. It may be triggered by changes in head position, which may occur when you turn your head quickly, roll over in bed, tip your head, or bend over. Although BPPV can be bothersome, it is rarely serious, although it might increase your chance of falling.

BPPV develops when certain crystals in your inner ear shift and get trapped within structures called the semicircular canals which control your balance. As your head position changes, these crystals roll around the semicircular canals and move the internal tiny hairs. These tiny hairs act as sensors and transmit the information to your brain. Dizziness when turning head develops when the crystals stimulate these hairs.

BPPV usually affects the elderly without specific causes. Other causes of BPPV include:

  • ŸHead trauma
  • Sudden shift of position from a prolonged position of the head
  • Biking on a rough trail
  • Intense exercise
  • Labyrinthine disorder
  • Vestibular migraine
  • Meniere’s disease

 What Are the Symptoms of Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo?

Signs and symptoms of BPPV include:

  • Dizziness
  • Spinning sensation
  • Loss of balance/unsteadiness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Nystagmus (rhythmic eye movements)

These symptoms often last for less than a minute; they usually come and go. Episodes can disappear and recur after a long time.

When to See a Doctor

It is advisable to see a doctor if you experience unexplained dizziness when turning head, especially if it occurs periodically for more than a week. See a doctor immediately if you experience dizziness with any of the following symptoms which may signal a serious problem:

  • Severe headache
  • Fever
  • Trouble speaking
  • Vision loss/double vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Leg/arm weakness
  • Falling/difficulty walking
  • Numbness/tingling
  • Loss of consciousness

How to Diagnose Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

Your doctor will evaluate your medical history and conduct a physical exam. The Dix-Hallpike maneuver is often performed to diagnose BPPV. It involves holding your head in one position, lying down backward quickly on a table. While doing this, the doctor looks for abnormal movement of the eyes and asks if you feel a spinning sensation.

If the test does not confirm why you have BPPV, other tests may be needed, including:

  • An electroencephalogram
  • An electronystagmography
  • CT scan of the head
  • MRI of the head
  • Hearing test
  • Magnetic resonance angiography
  • Caloric stimulation 

How to Treat Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

1.   The Epley Maneuver

Your doctor may try this maneuver if you have crystals at the bottom of the semicircular canals. It involves a series of 4 head movements where the head is held in place for about 30 seconds after each movement. This causes the semicircular canal to move around so that gravity allows the crystal fragments to move out and settle into the vestibule where they can cause no more symptoms. Some studies show that this maneuver helps stop symptoms in 8 out of 10 cases in one treatment. If treatment doesn’t work, it can be repeated after about a week or so.

2.   Brandt-Daroff Exercises

These are recommended if the Epley maneuver does not work. It involves a different method of moving the head. To perform the Brandt-Daroff exercises:

  • Sit upright.
  • Shift to a lying position but on one side. Be sure to keep your nose pointed up at 45-degree angle.
  • Hold the position for 30 seconds or until dizziness subsides.
  • ŸMove back to sitting position.
  • Do the same on the other side.

3.   Medication

There are no specific medications for dizziness when turning head, but certain medicines may be used to relieve severe nausea and vomiting. Consult your doctor about what medications to take.

4.   Surgery

This is not often needed, but occasionally when symptoms persist and fail to improve, an operation on the inner ear done by an ear specialist can be an option.

5.   No Treatment

Sometimes, BPPV improves on its own after many weeks/months. One study found that the condition resolves after an average of ten weeks. The inner ear crystals are believed to either move or dissolve; thus the symptoms disappear.

More Safety Tips

You must take measures to ensure that you do not hurt yourself or other people if you have sudden attacks of dizziness. These include:

  • Don't drive or use a bicycle if you could lose control or hurt others.
  • Keep floors and paths free of litter to prevent tripping or falling.
  • Avoid heights.
  • Avoid using tools/machines that could endanger you if you get dizzy or lose balance.
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