The inner ear has a mechanism called the vestibular system that controls balance. Inside the system are semicircular canals with ducts, tiny hairs cells (stereocilia), and a thick gel structure called the cupula. When you turn your head, stand up or sit down, the gel moves against the stereocilia and receptors tell the brain that your body has changed orientation.
When the inner ear malfunctions, you can experience dizziness, vertigo and other balance issues. For some people, balance and inner ear disorders are hereditary and lifelong.
Symptoms of vertigo go beyond simply dizziness; they include feeling disoriented, nauseous and weak as well as producing erratic eye movements. Vertigo is sometimes associated with an illusion of movement – feeling like you are swaying or falling even if you are perfectly still. Since vertigo may be connected with inner ear problems, someone experiencing vertigo may also have hearing loss and ringing or discomfort in the ears.
Common tests for inner ear-related vertigo or balance issues include electronystagmogram (ENG) and videonystagmogram (VNG) procedures wherein warm or cool air is softly blown into the ear canal, and then eye movements are measured. The purpose of this is to test the strength of the inner ear as well as eye movement coordination.
Treatment for dizziness takes many forms depending on the cause. Your physician will try to target the underlying condition in order to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Some options include medications (antihistamines, sedatives, antibiotics, steroids), physical or occupational therapy, surgery, repositioning exercises, vestibular retraining programs and lifestyle modifications.