Imagine waking up one morning and suddenly the room is violently spinning and whirling around you, so much so you're nauseated, sweating and can’t even stand up.
It’s vertigo - not the movie starring Jimmy Stewart - but an affliction experienced by thousands of people daily, and many have no idea what is wrong with them.
There is a distinction between vertigo and dizziness.
“Vertigo is a sensation of a whirling and spinning room, while dizziness is lightheadedness, disorientation, floating,” said Julie Grove, physical therapist at Cascade Dizziness & Balance PT.
Vertigo is more severe than dizziness, which often happens when a person stands up and feels light-headed.
“Basically vertigo turns your world upside down,” said Grove.
Vertigo can be caused by a problem in the inner ear, a problem with the brain, or a problem with the nerves that connect the brain to the middle ear.
“It’s not a normal sense to have and affects your quality of life,” said Grove. “When due to an inner ear disorder it creates head motion-induced imbalance, visual instability, misperceptions of where you are relative to space, as well as nausea, elevated anxiety, headaches, postural problems."
People suffering with vertigo can also have difficulty concentrating and have trouble with memory and word recall.
One of the most common forms of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).
“It’s a ‘benign condition’ that actually is very fight- or flight-inducing for people who experience it,” said Grove. "It can be very panic inducing and nauseating and terrifying, but it is one of the only inner ear diseases that we can truly eliminate."
Donna Robinson of Tacoma first began experiencing symptoms about six months ago.
“I got vertigo when I laid down on my right side,” she said. “It was like a carnival ride.”
Robinson, 51, didn’t think too much about it because she only experienced vertigo when lying on her right side.
“I figured it would clear up on its own,” she said.
But things got serious one day when she was up on a ladder, painting.
“When I looked down to refill my brush things started spinning and I though yep, we have to get this checked out,” she said.
A visit to an ear, nose and throat specialist determined that chronic sinusitis was the likely cause.
The doctor tested Robinson’s eyes for “nystagmus,” involuntary eye movements that indicate an inner ear disorder.
“The best I could describe it to my husband and children is the ‘cookie monster eyes,’” Robinson said.
Robinson went to see Grove at Cascade Dizziness and Balance Physical Therapy.
A few tests determined that Robinson had what Grove called "a classic case" of vertigo.
Grove treated Robinson by using various maneuvers to reposition the particles in Robinson's inner ear.
Robinson was instructed not to lie on the affected side - her right side - for a week.
The results were dramatic.
“She treated me on a Monday and in a week it was gone,” said Robinson.
"My husband’s reaction was a little like ‘this is smoke and mirrors, that’s a little too simple to fix this,' but I’m a true believer," said Robinson.
Grove says treatment for vertigo is typically between two and 12 visits, and she stresses that once you have BPPV you are susceptible to having a recurrence.
Grove's office in the Leschi neighborhood features a unique balance training environment.
“I always wanted to simulate the topography of the Pacific Northwest by having patients really practice their balance by walking on driftwood logs, on rockery, over mushy grass etc," Grove said.
Nearly 69 million Americans have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction.
"A lot of dizziness is dismissed by health care providers and we're trying to educate physicans and health care staff on evaluating patients," said Grove.
And it's not just limited to adults - pediatric vestibular disorders are getting more attention from clinicians as an overlooked problem.
Vestibular deficits may affect a child’s ability to learn to read. Children are currently not typically screened for these disorders, and as a result frequently fail to receive medical treatment for their symptoms.
To get the word out, this week, Sept. 16-20, the Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA) is celebrating "Balance Awareness Week."
Cascade Dizziness and Balance Physical Therapy is one of the clinics offering free balance screens to the public.
"Essentially therapists want to get the word out that fall risks can be reduced, vertigo treated, and balance improved," Grove said.
Several events are planned in the Seattle area:
Open House for Balance Awareness: 9/19 4-7pm. Location: Pacific Balance Center, 400 Mercer, Ste. 302, Seattle, WA 98109. Free Nordic walking demonstrations, cooking demonstrations focused on foods that support vestibular health, free fall risk assessments, food & beverages, prizes. Win a pair of KEEN shoes ($140 value), an Urban Poling package and for more information call (206) 448-1906.
Walk for Balance: 9/21, 11am-1pm. Location: Green Lake (Library), 7364 E. Green Lake Dr., Seattle, WA 98115. The Seattle Dizzy Group hopes to create better awareness for vestibular disorders and show support for people living with chronic dizziness and imbalance. There will also be a support group meeting to follow, with guest speaker, Julie Grove, MPT.
Cascade Dizziness & Balance PT
120 Lakeside Ave., Suite 210
Seattle, WA. 98122