It’s one of those body parts that just sounds a little funny: ear crystals. We all have them, and if we’re feeling vertigo, they might be to blame.
While they’re tiny, these calcium carbonate substances are actually the cause of most dizziness that audiologist Jessica Hagg, Au.D., C.C.C.-A., sees at the Sanford Health Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic.
In our ears is a branch that houses hearing and an off-branch that houses balance. Within that balance branch, we have tiny crystals in a gelatin area. These ear crystals are supposed to stay home on this gelatin area. But when they get dislodged, the person may feel dizzy.
The human balance system is very delicate and our vestibular, or sensory, system is finely tuned, so any disruption has huge implications.
The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), and it is a disruption of the tiny crystals within the inner ear. These crystals help us know where our head is at in space, Dr. Hagg said.
When they are dislodged, the crystals float around in the fluid area of the balance branch of the inner ear, and you will start to feel off balance. The loose crystals will start to make people feel like they are spinning and the room is spinning around them.
If you are 60 or older, you are more prone to having your ear crystals dislodge. Many athletes are also more prone, especially if they have had a lot of head trauma. Because this is a calcium deposit, there may also be an increase of cases for women after they have gone through menopause.
Once your crystals have become loose, you are more susceptible to experiencing it again. The gelatin is home to all of your crystals, thus if you have experienced one bout of dizziness you are at a greater risk for further occurrences. “Your crystals are like concrete. Once concrete cracks, it keeps cracking,” Dr. Hagg said.
Symptoms of loose ear crystals
Dizziness can be caused by many things, so how do you know that your dizziness is due to crystals loose within your ear?
When you have loose crystals, any movement causes dizziness. The dizziness will subside within 30 seconds of initially having it, but it may come back with movement, even if it is as simple of bending to tie your shoe. Often, many patients end up in the emergency room because dizziness is often a common symptom of a stroke and can be confused for BPPV.
When your crystals are in place and where they should be, they let you know what motion you are making. When dislodged, the crystal is floating in the water and causing ripples. This will cause nausea, so people will usually throw up from it.
Some other symptoms will include your eyes ticking and you will feel like the room is spinning around you.
Luckily, loose crystals are not a hard thing to treat. The first part of treatment is determining if it’s your right or left ear and what canal is housing the loose crystals. An audiologist or ear, nose and throat physician will do this using the Dix-Hallpike test.
The Dix-Hallpike is a movement in which you turn your head to the left or to the right at a 45-degree angle. You then lie down relatively quickly with your head at an angle below the table.
Treating yourself at home is easy once you know what ear and what canal are affected. At home, you can perform the Epley maneuver.
To do the Epley maneuver, start by turning your head 45 degrees to the left or the right. You then lie back and after 30 seconds turn your head 90 degrees to the other direction and wait another 30 seconds before sitting up. Dr. Hagg recommends to treat it two times a day, every day until you have three days without any symptoms.
Although dizziness due to loose crystals in your head may sound odd, it is a serious yet treatable issue.