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

Fear of Heights May be a Physical Condition: BPPV

by Linda Jenkinson |

Ferris wheel

Vertigo is a terrifying condition. I don'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 and I did enjoy riding the Ferris wheel and roller coaster when the carnival came to town. As I grew older, though, the fear became stronger, until finally I had no choice but to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

  1. While climbing the steps up to "Pike's Peak" I began to hyperventilate about half way up and had to wait for my friends to finish their ascent and come back for me.
  2. A few years later, with seats in the top tier at a baseball game, I began to hyperventilate again and an attendant had to help me find a seat closer to the ground.
  3. At a concert, I was unable to stand and applaud from my seat in the balcony. I became nauseous and dizzy and had to remain seated.
  4. At a theme park, I began to panic on a Ferris wheel-like ride and had to "deplane" before take off.

The condition continued to worsen until even the height of a step stool was dizzying. Finally, at my annual health checkup, when my MD asked me to lie back on the exam table, I experienced an unreasonable bout of dizziness, panic, and fear. I felt as if I were falling and I absolutely could not lie back. The fear was paralyzing. My reaction was so intense that my doctor referred me to occupational therapy.

Finally these bouts of vertigo had a name – of sorts, "BPPV".

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

  • PBA— Pseudobulbar (A condition of uncontrolled laughing or crying.)
  • IBS—Irritable Bowel Syndrome (This acronym is necessary to clean up the visual picture it paints!)
  • RLS—Restless Leg Syndrome (Acronyms, such as this one, are pharma created to impute importance to a condition that may otherwise seem to be superficial.)

However, in this case, the acronym BPPV does what acronyms are supposed to do. It keeps your tongue from becoming hopelessly twisted on medical terminology. BPPV stands for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. When you break its name down, it's easier to understand:

  • Benign = curable (a definite plus!)
  • Paroxysmal = recurrent, but sporadic
  • Positional = happens due to certain positions or movements
  • Vertigo = a sense of whirling and losing ones balance

The short story is that BPPV is a type of vertigo that is caused by loose calcium deposits (otoconia or "ear rocks") in the canals of the inner ear. 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 seems to start spinning out of kilter.

Treatment of BPPV is quite simple. No drugs, anesthetics, or injections are necessary. The condition is treated by either an occupational or a physical therapist, using either the Epley maneuver or the Semont maneuver, which are simple, yet very effective techniques that reposition those pesky ear rocks. Often, they will eventually re-assimilate into the fluids in the ear canals.

On a single trip to occupational therapy, the therapist confirmed my physicians 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 and since it no longer has a physical basis, although I'm still not ready for sky-diving, my fear of heights is all but gone.

If vertigo, dizziness, or unsteadiness is a problem for you, read more about 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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