Vertigo is an extremely common disorder and is actually surprisingly easy to treat.
But if you have visited numerous doctors throughout years of misery and your vertigo remains untreated, a new study by researchers from Technical University Munich, published in the journal Progress in Brain Research might have the answer.
It’s the “second type of vertigo”. And it has been almost impossible to treat… until now.
Some people have vertigo because of what researchers call organic defects. These include a loss of functioning of the vestibular nerves, which are meant to transmit balance information to the brain, damage to the inner ear, where balance information is created, damage to parts of the brain where balance information is received, and so forth.
These organic causes account for almost all cases of vertigo, but the Munich researchers were interested in the cases of vertigo that seemed to have no organic cause.
They had long suspected that these unfortunate vertigo sufferers had a perception disorder rather than one of the well-understood balance disorders, and, in a carefully crafted study, they set out to discover how this worked.
They recruited 11 healthy people with no vertigo at all. They also recruited eight people with vertigo, who had no organic damage to the balance system. As the third group, they used people with such organic damage, who had previously participated in their studies.
They asked their participants to sit in a dark room and look straight ahead at lights that were flashed quickly on the wall to the left and the right of their direct gaze.
They were then told to look in the direction of the lights when they flashed.
The researchers recorded their eye and head movements while they did so.
To make the task more difficult, they then put a weighted helmet on their participant’s heads, requiring them to try to hold their heads up straight while looking at the flashing lights.
They immediately observed significant differences between the three groups of subjects.
The healthy people without vertigo managed to adapt to the difficult circumstances and managed to stabilize their heads.
The vertigo sufferers without organic defects struggled to stabilize their head movements, and their heads kept on wobbling. They were, in fact, almost as unable to adapt to these conditions as the people with organically caused vertigo.
What is happening here?
Based on a whole lifetime of experience stored in your brain, you have learned to expect which sensory impressions will be triggered by which movements.
When you move, this stored information is compared with information received from your vestibular balance organs.
When your head movements are unusual, the two information sources no longer match.
If you have healthy balance, your brain simply learns to adapt to the unusual circumstances, and it stores a new learned model.
If you, however, have an organic vertigo disorder, your vestibular balance system sends scrambled information, and you cannot adapt.
This study has identified a second potential cause of vertigo. In the absence of organic defects, your brain processes the sensory information from head movements incorrectly and can therefore not store a new learned model, either, as it cannot interpret the sensory information from head movements.