Navigating the Inner Ear: Unraveling the Science Behind Vertigo

09/06/2023 | Balance

When the signals sent to the brain are inconsistent, your brain has a hard time interpreting them. And your brain’s response might be to assume that either you’re spinning, or that your surroundings are.

Have you ever felt like the world is spinning around you, even though you’re standing perfectly still? This sensation is known as vertigo, and it often originates from the inner ear. It might surprise you to learn that vertigo isn’t a condition itself, but rather a symptom.

Vertigo can be so slight that you barely notice it, or it can be so severe that it makes going about your daily routine nearly impossible. And attacks can develop suddenly and last for a few seconds or much longer. With severe vertigo, you may experience symptoms for several days. So what causes vertigo? And what can be done about it? Read on for all you need to know.

What Causes Vertigo?

The inner ear, while tiny, is complex. It’s responsible for both hearing and balance. And the inner ear’s vestibular system is quite intricate. It’s composed of fluid-filled canals and sensory receptors.

Your vestibular system plays a role in your equilibrium. When you nod or tilt your head, your vestibular system acts by sending signals to your brain that allow you to orient yourself. Most often, vertigo is caused by a problem with the way these signals reach the brain. When the signals sent to the brain are inconsistent, your brain has a hard time interpreting them. And your brain’s response might be to assume that either you’re spinning, or that your surroundings are. When this happens, you may experience vertigo.

Some of the conditions that can cause symptoms of vertigo include:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes
  • Low blood pressure
  • Shingles
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Ataxia
  • Brain diseases
  • Head injuries
  • Meniere’s disease

Coping Strategies for Balance Issues

If you’re experiencing balance issues, don’t panic. There are several strategies to cope with balance issues and dramatically improve your quality of life. Let’s discuss a few.

Types of Vertigo

There are two main types of vertigo—peripheral and central.

Peripheral vertigo

Peripheral vertigo is the most common type of vertigo. It’s brought on by a problem with your inner ear or vestibular system.

Central vertigo

Central vertigo is brought on by a condition impacting your brain. It may occur after an infection, stroke, or traumatic brain injury. Usually, the symptoms of central vertigo are more severe. People suffering from central vertigo might have trouble with stability and walking.

What Does Vertigo Feel Like?

People who suffer from vertigo often describe it as feeling like they’re:

  • Spinning
  • Swaying
  • Unbalanced
  • Tilting

Other symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Ringing in the ears

How Is Vertigo Diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you some questions about your vertigo symptoms and will likely perform a physical examination. They’ll use instruments to examine your ear canal and eardrum, and they may examine your eye movements as well. Sometimes, additional tests are required—like tests that examine the nerve that connects your inner ear to your brain.

How Is Vertigo Treated?

Sometimes, symptoms of vertigo will improve and disappear over time. But some individuals may need the help of a healthcare professional to manage their vertigo symptoms. Here are some ways you can manage your symptoms at home:

  • Sleep with your head elevated
  • As soon as you begin to feel dizzy, sit or lie down
  • Move slowly when standing up or performing movements
  • If you get up during the night, turn on the lights
  • Lie down in a dark room to alleviate the spinning sensation

It’s not unusual to have vertigo once and never have it again. Other people have frequent episodes of vertigo that never go away. There’s really no way to ensure that vertigo won’t come back, unfortunately. If you are experiencing frequent symptoms of vertigo, your healthcare provider will be able to recommend the best treatment options for managing your symptoms and improving your quality of life.

What’s Next?

If you’re suffering from vertigo, it’s normal to feel frustrated and overwhelmed, especially if you’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms. If your vertigo symptoms are severe or frequent, you should consult with your audiologist or healthcare provider. They’ll be able to determine if an issue with your inner ear is causing your symptoms or if it’s another underlying condition.

If you or a loved one is experiencing vertigo and you think we can assist, don’t hesitate to reach out. Our team of hearing care professionals is always here to help you. You can reach us by calling us at:

Lawrenceburg office at (812) 532-3011
Harrison office at (513) 278-5388
Or, request a callback


We’re here to help you restore your quality of life and maintain an independent lifestyle through better hearing!

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Dr. Person Au.D, CCC-A

Dr. Person has been a private practice owner since 2005. She currently specializes in hearing aids, tinnitus management and vestibular diagnostics, while operating in an unbundled service delivery model. Dr. Person is the host of The Unbundled Audiologist podcast. She serves as the incoming VP of Audiology for ISHA for a three year term. Her greatest accomplishment is creating a life where she can serve others while still spending quality time with her husband and two small children.