Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): logo with tag Imagine More

Fear of Heights May be a Physical Condition: BPPV

Ferris wheel

Vertigo is Terrifying

Idon't know why or when it happened, but I don't remember a time when I wasn't afraid of heights. Even so, I do remember diving from the "high" board at our municipal swimming pool. I did enjoy riding the Ferris wheel and roller coaster when the carnival came to town. For some reason the fear became overpowering as I grew older.

I only felt safe with my feet planted firmly on the ground.

The condition continued to worsen until even the height of a step stool was dizzying.

Finally, at my annual checkup, when my doctor asked me to lie back on the exam table, I experienced an irrational bout of dizziness, panic, and fear. I felt as if I were falling and I could not lie back. The fear was paralyzing. My reaction was so intense that my doctor referred me to occupational therapy.

At last these bouts of vertigo had a name: "BPPV".

It seems like everyday there is a new acronym for one medical condition or another. Many are marketing ploys to make a condition sound less clinical and, in some cases, more serious.

However, the acronym BPPV keeps your tongue from becoming twisted on medical terminology. BPPV stands for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. When you break its name down, it's easier to understand:

In short, loose calcium deposits (otoconia or "ear rocks") in the canals of the inner ear cause BPPV. Inner ear canals are a part of our vestibular system, which gives us our sense of balance. When ear rocks start floating around, the world begins to spin out of kilter.

Treatment of BPPV is quite simple. No drugs, anesthetics, or injections are necessary. Either an occupational or a physical therapist uses the Epley or the Semont maneuver, to put those pesky ear rocks back in place. Both manuevers are simple, yet effective. The ear rocks will eventually re-assimilate into the fluids in the ear canals.

On a single trip to occupational therapy, the therapist confirmed my physician's diagnosis and treated the condition. So far it hasn't returned. Since treatment, I can lay flat again, with no dizziness or fear of falling. I feel much steadier on my feet. Because it no longer has a physical basis, my fear of heights is all but gone.

If vertigo, dizziness, or unsteadiness is a problem for you, read more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of BPPV here:

  1. “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) | Vestibular Disorders Association.” Accessed May 14, 2016.
  2. “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health.” Accessed May 14, 2016.

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