Many things can bring on a bout of vertigo, including inner ear infections, migraines and even some medications, including those used to treat high blood pressure or anxiety. But one of the most common causes, as Gerlach discovered after a doctor visit, is an inner-ear condition with a tongue twister of a name: benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). About half of all people over age 65 will suffer an episode of BPPV, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and the Mayo Clinic says women are particularly prone. Along with the “Whoa, what the heck …?” sensation, people may also experience lightheadedness and a wonky sense of balance. Queasiness and vomiting may also be part of the package.
BPPV occurs when tiny calcium carbonate crystals, which normally reside in an inner-ear organ called the utricle and help you keep your balance, break loose and travel into the semicircular canals of the inner ear. This may simply be part of the normal aging process. “BPPV is a degenerative change in the inner ear,” says Rauch. “A degenerative utricle will shed crystals from time to time, like shingles falling off the side of an old house.”