The human body works like a well-oiled machine, with each body part (even the most minuscule elements) playing a role in keeping your system functioning efficiently. This includes your inner ears, which are responsible for helping us maintain our sense of balance, gravity, and motion.
So, if these ear crystals become disconnected and end up in places they shouldn’t be, it can lead to a lot of discomfort and even cause vertigo episodes. Here’s a brief guide to help you understand the role of ear crystals and how to deal with vertigo resulting from it.
What Are Ear Crystals?
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All of us have tiny stones in our internal ears. These tiny stones are made of calcium carbonate, the same substance found in calcium supplements and antacids, and are scientifically referred to as otoconia, also called ear crystals.
At about 1 to 30 micrometers, these crystals are minuscule, but they have a major responsibility. Ear crystals help our brains interpret the changes and shifts in speed, motion, and balance when we move.
These crystals help you perceive your body’s linear acceleration. It triggers the superfine hairlike cells inside your inner ears — the saccule and the utricle. These two cells send electrical data to your brain to be interpreted.
The utricle is responsible for sensing the changes in horizontal acceleration, whereas the saccule is attuned to the vertical acceleration shifts. Working together as the otolith organs, they help sense different directions of acceleration.
So, if something goes wrong with your ear crystals, it will directly impact your balance and cause you to experience health complications.
Can Ear Crystals Cause Vertigo?
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Yes, ear crystals can cause vertigo, although the dizziness lasts only a few seconds to minutes when you move your head. However, it can be chronic and can negatively impact your life.
The simplest way to describe vertigo is feeling like you are moving when you are not or as if the room is spinning around you.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is a type of vertigo that is extremely common and is caused by ear crystals. It is an illness that impacts your inner ear’s vestibular system. So, when you shift your head to any position, it will trigger vertigo.
Your vestibular system includes three semicircular canals, utricles, and saccules triggered by your ear crystals. And any movement of your head will cause these tiny organs to transmit these motions to your brain.
The utricle, for instance, has ear crystals, and sometimes these stones can get separated from the main utricle and settle in one of the three semicircular canals. This leads to the canals transmitting incorrect signals to your brain, especially if any crystals move.
As a result, the brain, which relies on these data, will get confused, thus resulting in an individual experiencing symptoms of BPPV.
For example, when you tilt your head in one direction, one of the semicircular canals is intended to monitor this movement. If a crystal settles on any of these canals, it will disrupt the fluid movement happening inside the channel, which can cause vertigo. As the crystal drops back in place, the dizziness disappears. All of this happens in mere seconds, although the discomfort and queasiness from vertigo may linger.
Despite how complicated and uncomfortable the impact is, this kind of vertigo is not fatal. And regardless of the length and frequency of this vertigo, it doesn’t get any worse. Its main trigger is changes in your head position, also called paroxysmal, which means intermittent, where the dizziness comes and goes.
Women and older adults are usually at higher risk of developing BPPV, but one can experience it at any age.
What To Do About Ear Crystals and BPPV?
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BPPV can often make you feel nauseous when getting out of bed, and any sudden head movements can cause you to step back and let your sense of balance come back.
The good thing is some controlled head movements can ease BPPV. For instance, when tilting your head or looking in an upward and downward motion, you can reduce the discomfort of vertigo by trying to hold your head as still as possible. This may or not work for you, but it’s worth trying.
Additionally, two scientifically proven procedures can ease your BPPV symptoms — the Epley maneuver and the Semont-Liberatory exercise. Your doctor will discuss the most applicable procedure for you based on the location of your ear crystals.
1. The Epley Maneuver
Usually, the first recommendation to treat BPPV is the Epley Maneuver. It aims to move the ear crystals out of your semicircular canals and then probe them to move to an area that will not disrupt the natural process of how your system works. Once the crystals are moved to these safe areas, the body can excrete or absorb the stones.
This technique is easy to carry out and can even be done at home.
Although if you have limited capacity or feel you need more confidence to do this on your own, you can always ask for assistance from a professional. In most cases, the vertigo is already controlled after a few sessions of doing the Epley technique.
It should be noted that while this maneuver is effective, getting the ear crystals to the safe spaces can be a painful task because every movement to position these stones would mean suffering from vertigo.
2. The Semont-Liberatory Maneuver
The Semont-Liberatory maneuver is also intended to reposition the ear crystals that were displaced. This entails moving your body from one side to another in quick succession to identify which part of your vestibular system is impacted by BPPV.
A licensed physical therapist performs this maneuver, which can be done in 15 minutes. The Semont-Liberatory maneuver involves high-velocity movements that can increase your anxiety, so it usually becomes the second option if the Epley Maneuver fails. The effectiveness of this technique is also rated high, with treatment being concluded after four sessions.
The dizziness from BPPV can also be managed by medication, but only if your doctor finds it necessary. The most common drugs prescribed are antihistamines, anticholinergics, and, in extreme cases, sedatives and hypnotic drugs.
The last option for dealing with ear crystals and BPPV is surgery. But this is only provided as an option if the non-invasive repositioning techniques fail and if the vertigo is persistent. The surgeries usually performed for BPPV are the singular neurectomy or the posterior semicircular canal occlusion.