Fear of Heights May be a Physical Condition: BPPV
Published Tue Dec 04, 2018 | Updated Tue Mar 5, 2019 | Posted in Health Cares | By Linda Jenkinson |
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.
- While climbing the steps up to "Pike's Peak," about halfway to the top, I began to hyperventilate. I had to sit on the step and wait for my friends to come back and help me get down again.
- After getting to my "cheap seat" in the top tier of a ball park, I began to hyperventilate again. An attendant had to help me find a seat closer to the ground.
- At a concert, I was unable to stand and applaud from my seat in the balcony. I became nauseous, dizzy, and had to remain seated.
- 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 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.
- 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 (A pharma created acronym, devsed to put importance on a condition that may be superficial.)
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:
- 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
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:
- “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) | Vestibular Disorders Association.” Accessed May 14, 2016. http://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorders/types-vestibular-disorders/benign-paroxysmal-positional-vertigo.
- “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo - National Library of Medicine - PubMed Health.” Accessed May 14, 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0022338/.