Vertigo is characterised by dizziness and problems with balance due to damage or disease in the inner ear or the brain’s balance center. The dizziness feels like either the world is spinning, or the person experiencing it is.
Vertigo episodes may last for a few seconds to several minutes, and a person may experience multiple vertigo episodes for days at a time. While vertigo in itself is not a life-threatening condition, the disorientation puts the person at risk for falls and injury. The discomfort can also significantly impair quality of life.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, consult a specialist to determine the root cause of your vertigo. Your specialist can design a tailored regimen to manage your symptoms and address the root cause. Here are some things you can do at home to ease your vertigo and restore equilibrium.
1. Practice small eye and head movements
Simple exercises desensitize your sensory nervous system via repetitive movements. Sit up straight and without moving your head, flick your gaze up and down quickly for 20 repetitions. Then flick your gaze left to right quickly, also for 20 repetitions.
You can also try this one: while sitting up straight, stretch out your arm and stick out your thumb. Focus your gaze on the thumb, then move it side to side at a comfortable pace for 20 repetitions. Follow the thumb as it moves, allowing the head to turn with it.
Simple eye and head exercises like these stabilise your gaze and allow the body to adapt to movement. This helps your inner ear and brain to develop compensating mechanisms, which can restore equilibrium so you can manage larger movements.
2. Get enough sleep
Here’s a conundrum—lying down during sleep may worsen vertigo; meanwhile, getting poor quality sleep at night may also exacerbate daytime symptoms! Even a person without vertigo feels weak and lightheaded when sleep-deprived, but for someone with vertigo, this body weakness and lightheadedness could mean the difference between being able to handle symptoms and having an unmanageable day.
So what are you to do? Adjust your sleeping habits, particularly with positioning and pillow height. Lying on the affected side is likely to increase vertigo, so sleep on your unaffected side. Place a body pillow behind you so you don't roll onto the affected side when you're asleep.
You can also try sleeping on your back or stomach if that feels more comfortable. To avoid pressure from your inner ear fluid, adjust pillow height by adding more pillows, or use a wedge pillow or travel pillow to keep your head at a higher angle during sleep.
In the morning, sit up gradually to give your body time to adjust to your movements. Avoid bolting out of bed—which may mean setting your alarm earlier to give you ample time to get out of bed slowly.
3. Sniff alcohol pads
It may sound funny, but sniffing alcohol pads during a bout of vertigo may help reduce the sensation of nausea and prevent it from escalating to a bout of vomiting.
A study at the San Antonio Military Medical Center recruited 80 patients complaining of nausea or vomiting. 37 patients in the group sniffed pads soaked with isopropyl alcohol; the other 43 patients sniffed pads soaked with saline solution, making up the placebo group.
All the patients inhaled for no more than 60 seconds at the start of the visit, then again at two minutes and four minutes. For the 37 patients who sniffed alcohol pads, nausea levels dropped to a median score of 3/10 from 6/10. The patients who sniffed the placebo pads reported no change from the original 6/10 score.
The reasoning behind this is still unclear. One theory is olfactory distraction. The strong scent of the alcohol takes signals away from the vomiting center of the brain, similar to how sniffing fragrant oils also reduces nausea.
4. Do select yoga poses
Doing yoga poses requires balance and concentration. Just like eye exercises, going through the motions desensitizes you to movement, and your balance centers learn to compensate. The calming nature of yoga also relaxes you, alleviating the feeling of anxiety and dread of anticipating a vertigo episode.
Try balasana (or child’s pose) to relax yourself and restore your equilibrium at the onset of a an episode. Get down on all fours, then bring both feet together while widening your knees, then lower yourself to the ground.
Touch your abdomen to your thighs, buttocks to your feet, and forehead to the ground. Once in this position, reach the arms backward, parallel with your legs. If you can reach far enough, hold your feet. Retain this position for 30 seconds or longer.
Another effective pose is the viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) which increases circulation to the brain and alleviates headaches. Sitting opposite a wall, elevate your legs 90 degrees against the wall. Lie back and stretch your arms out, bent at the elbows and with your palms face up. Once in this position, take long, deep, calming breaths. Perform this pose with your eyes closed to regain your sense of balance and equilibrium.
5. Perform the Epley maneuver
If you have been diagnosed with benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), the most common type of vertigo, the Epley maneuver is a popular technique home remedy done before bed each night. If you’ve never done it before, it’s a good idea to have a doctor do this before you try it at home.
Normally, when you turn your head, fluid inside the curved tubes of the inner ear shifts, informing the brain that head movement has occurred. With BPPV, calcium crystals form inside your inner ear and float amid the fluid inside. The shift in fluid from the calcium crystals make the brain think head movement has occurred even if it hasn’t, causing vertigo. The Epley maneuver uses gravity to draw the calcium crystals out through the curvatures of the inner ear and away from the structures that govern equilibrium and balance.
Sit up on a bed and gently turn your head 45 degrees to the affected side. Lie back on a pillow, keeping your head in the same position, and wait 30 seconds. Without raising your head, turn it back 90 degrees so it’s turned at 45 degrees to the unaffected side. Hold for another 30 seconds. Lastly, turn your body another 90 degrees to the unaffected side so you’re lying facedown on the bed. Hold this last position for another 30 seconds, then sit up slowly on the unaffected side.
If the maneuver is successful, vertigo should stop. Try three repetitions each night before going to bed until you achieve 24 hours with no vertigo episodes.
Get your balance back!
The exercises mentioned are safe, meant to restore equilibrium by building up tolerance for normal eye and head movements. Your dizziness may intensify briefly as the body adjusts, so pace yourself using slow and gentle movements to prevent falls and injuries.
These home remedies can be helpful measures to restore equilibrium. However, it’s always best to seek professional advice. A doctor can treat the root cause of vertigo, so you get your balance back—permanently. ■