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The Main Types and Subtypes of Vertigo

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Vertigo has two main types that are based on how it occurs — peripheral and central vertigo. A third and special type is sometimes diagnosed when peripheral and central vertigo have been ruled out, which is further discussed below.

Peripheral Vertigo Is Caused by Problems in Your Inner Ear

The inner ear is responsible for translating the air vibrations into signals that your brain processes as sound, via tiny hair cells in your cochlea. It's also responsible for keeping your balance when you move thanks to the utricle and saccule.

But when the signals in your ear don't match with your eyes' signals, this confuses your brain, thus causing vertigo. Below are the several types of peripheral vertigo:1

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

BPPV occurs when small crystal deposits in your inner ear become loose and float around the fluids in your inner ear.

As you move your head, you'll typically feel like the whole world is spinning around you, causing you to lose your balance even if you're not making significant movements at all. The onset of vertigo is very sudden, and can last for a few seconds to a few minutes.2

Labyrinthitis

Your labyrinth is composed of a network of fluid-filled tunnels that has two purposes. The first is to send sound signals to be processed by your brain. The second is to control your balance by sending information to your brain regarding your head's current position and movement.3

When your labyrinth becomes inflamed, this condition is known as labyrinthitis. Similar to BPPV, it can cause vertigo because the signals that your eyes are sending to your brain are not synchronized with what your ears are sending.

Aside from vertigo, labyrinthitis can cause nausea, tinnitus and loss of hearing in the affected ear.4

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease is the buildup of a fluid called endolymph in the labyrinth. This happens when the labyrinth suffers from a problem in the drainage system (endolymphatic duct). As a result, you'll feel a sense of fullness or pressure on the affected ear, along with vertigo. Other symptoms of this condition include imbalance, nausea and reduced hearing in the affected ear.

Central Vertigo May Indicate a Problem in Your Nervous System

Central vertigo may happen due to a sports-related head injury, a virus that affects your brain, a brain tumor or stroke. The vertigo induced by central vertigo lasts longer and is more intense compared to peripheral vertigo, but your hearing isn't typically affected.5 Below are the different types of vertigo associated with your central nervous system:

Migraine-Induced Vertigo

A migraine is more severe and disorienting compared to the usual headache. Due to the intensity of the pain, it may cause you to experience spontaneous vertigo attacks that are often accompanied with nausea and vomiting. Certain foods may trigger a migraine, but other factors include sleep disturbances and hormonal fluctuations.6

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks your myelin, the protective layer of your nerve cells. As a result, your nervous system experiences difficulty sending signals throughout your body pertaining to muscle coordination. In turn, this causes vertigo, hearing loss, eyesight problems and movement problems.7

Acoustic Neuritis

Acoustic neuroma is characterized by the growth of a nonmalignant tumor on the cranial nerve located deep in your inner ear. The tumor induces vertigo by creating pressure on the adjacent nerves, along with other symptoms such as hearing loss and headaches. It may also cause facial numbness when the tumor presses against your trigeminal nerve.8

Cervical Vertigo May Indicate a Possible Neck Problem

Cervical vertigo is a special kind of vertigo that is not related to a problem in your inner ear or your brain. Rather, it is induced by your neck, and even the slightest movement can cause dizziness. There are two ways this condition can induce vertigo:9

Vascular compression: Compression of the vertebral arteries in your neck can cause vertigo-inducing pain in certain positions. This usually happens due to a car accident, sports injury or unintended effect of chiropractic therapy.

Abnormal sensory input from neck proprioceptors: Your neck proprioceptors are nerves responsible for sensing movement and vibration. The information gathered by these nerves work together with your inner ear to control your balance. If this mechanism isn't working properly, vertigo may occur.

To be diagnosed with cervical vertigo, problems in your inner ear and central nervous system must be ruled out first. Typically, it doesn't cause hearing problems, but you may experience ear pain.

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