“Ear rocks” may cause vertigo
Thomas Sellner, D.O., is an ear, nose and throat specialist at Banner Del E. Webb Medical Center. He can be reached at (623) 234-4640.
Question: Occasionally, I experience a dizzying sensation where it feels like the world is spinning. A friend said this might be caused by “ear rocks.” Is there such a condition and, if so, how is it treated?
Answer: When patients complain of dizziness, I try to understand the true sensation they are experiencing, and if I hear terms like “spinning,” vertigo is likely the cause. Vertigo is different than typical dizziness because it can make you feel like you are spinning or that an object you see appears to be moving when it should be fixed.
Many forms of vertigo exist and can result from a range of problems with the ears, brain, heart, lungs, eyes or even the feet. To assess a patient’s suspected vertigo, I often ask when the vertigo occurs, how long it lasts, what other symptoms the patient is experiencing (such as nausea or vomiting), if the patient has suffered head trauma or hearing loss, and if the patient can bring on a vertigo episode himself.
Your friend’s mention of “ear rocks” is an informal term associated with a condition known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). When I am evaluating a patient who complains of the spinning sensation and can bring the vertigo on by either turning his head to the side quickly or looking up too fast, it is generally BPPV.
Why does BPPV occur? If a person experiences some sort of trauma or injury, it can cause calcium crystals to form in the inner ear, sometimes called “ear rocks” or “ear stones.” These moving crystals usually reside in a section of the ear canal that is not sensitive to their movement. However, the aforementioned trauma can also cause the crystals to become dislodged and relocate to a different section of the ear, influencing fluid movement in the new area and sending confusing signals to the brain that lead to a feeling of disequilibrium, called BPPV.
To evaluate and correct BPPV, an ear, nose and throat specialist administers the Dix-Hallpike maneuver during the patient’s visit. With the Dix-Hallpike maneuver, the doctor moves the body to create a quick shift of fluids in the inner ear, inducing vertigo and helping identify whether the left or right ear is causing vertigo. A second treatment called the Epley maneuver helps relocate the crystals back to the section of the ear that doesn’t respond to their movement.
These in-office treatments generally prove helpful in relieving the symptoms of BPPV, and can be used repeatedly if the vertigo returns. Remember that BPPV is just one type of vertigo. Thus, if you feel you might be suffering from this or another form of vertigo, it’s important to consult your physician to get an accurate diagnosis.