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What it feels like to have BPPV

More than 10 Things you Need to Know About BPPV before you fly a plane

If you consulted your doctor because you were feeling dizzy, you may have expressed that you were having episodes in which you felt ‘The Room is Spinning’. In this article we are going to talk about what happens if you are diagnosed BPPV before you fly a plane.

In medical terms, the feeling of ‘Room Spinning’ is called vertigo. It can be unpleasant and also make you feel sick or off balance.

Vertigo – the feeling that the room is spinning – is different from Dizziness – which has more to do with feeling lightheaded.

What is BPPV?

BPPV is an abbreviation for Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. This is a condition of the ear in which it sends the wrong messages to your brain. It tells your brain that you are moving when in reality you are not.

If you would like to know more about BPPV or Benign Positional Paroxysmal Vertigo, you can read this is article on What is BPPV?.

How does my doctor know I have BPPV?

It is caused by small particles deep inside your ear that become dislodged. These microscopic particles cannot be seen by your doctor during your medical assessment. But we know they are dislodged because of the symptoms you are presenting with. When they move to different places inside of your ear, they begin to send incorrect messages to your brain.

What causes BPPV?

BPPV is caused when small particles in your ear called otoliths move from one place in your ear called the Vestibule, to a different part of your ear called the Semicircular Canals. In the elderly, it is poorly understood why these particles become dislodged. In the younger population they can become dislodged after a small bump on the head.

What are the symptoms of BPPV?

Common symptoms are the feeling of ‘room spinning’. Often people wake up with these symptoms. They occur in short episodes lasting less than a minute. If you move your head again, such as turning in bed, leaning down to tie your shoes or stand from the sitting position, you may feel the room starts spinning once more.

Though the episodes last less than a minute. They can be frequent, occurring each time you move throughout the day.

  • –  Episodes in which you feel the room is spinning last less than 1 minute.
  • –  You can have multiple episodes in one day.
  • –  These symptoms can last for a few weeks.Why do I feel I want to be sick when I have BPPV?When you have BPPV, your brain is getting the wrong messages, it thinks you are moving or spinning when in reality you are not. This can cause a symptom called nausea. It is an unpleasant feeling of stomach awareness which can result in vomiting.

How do I treat BPPV?

BPPV can be treated by moving the particles that have become dislodged in your ears, back to where they belong. To move the particles from the Semicircular Canals located in your ear, back to the Vestibular Organs which are also located in your ear; you will need to complete a few maneuvers.

These particles move in your ear in a similar way as Ball Bearings inside of a Maze.

The maneuvers that have proven to be most effective are called the Epley Maneuver and the Brandt- Daroff Exercises.

Can I treat BPPV with medication?

No. There is no proven drug treatment for BPPV.

Why can’t I treat BPPV with medication?

Because BPPV is caused by small particles that have become dislodged in your ear. To relocate these particles, you must rotate your head in a series of maneuvers to transfer these particles back to where they belong.

Using medication will not make the feeling of ‘Room Spinning’ much better. Instead, it can potentially delay your recovery.

When should I use medication to treat BPPV?

Medication can be helpful for managing your feeling of nausea and sickness, which is different from vertigo.

It is especially helpful if you are vomiting as a result of BPPV. Your doctor may also advise you to take medication during the first few days of your symptoms while you complete the head maneuvers and exercises.

How long should I take medication when I have BPPV?

Your doctor will usually advise you to take medication if you are feeling nausea and/or vomiting. The medication itself will do little to improve the symptoms of ‘room spinning’ or vertigo.

For vertigo you should do the maneuvers mentioned previously.

When prescribed, medication is taken when needed. This means only if you are feeling nausea and /or vomiting. Most of the time this will be the case during the first 2 to 3 days.

Doctors may also advise taking medication before doing some of the head maneuvers, if these make you feel very sick, or symptoms are very severe.

When should I see a doctor again for my BPPV?

Because BPPV resolves on its own, and because recovery can be sped up by completing special head maneuvers; you don’t need to see the doctor again unless: you are not improving, your symptoms are getting worse, or if you begin to have new different symptoms.

Your doctor should advise you on the day if a follow-up appointment is expected.

Can I get BPPV again?

Yes. BPPV is not a disease. It’s not contagious. But it can happen again. This is because the otoliths can become dislodged and because of the symptoms we described before.

Can I fly if I have BPPV?

If you are a pilot, this should stop your from flying until you are cleared by your medical examiner.

If you are a passenger, it is safe to fly with BPPV. It is always best to catch your flight if you have no symptoms. Feeling like the room is spinning once you are in the air can make you feel sick during your flight. And we know that being on an airplane is not a fun place to be unwell.

You should always check with your doctor first to see if you have the correct diagnosis, and for further advice, before you book tickets or take your flight.

If you would like to know more about flying with BPPV, please read this article on Can I Fly with BBPV?

Can I get Airplane Sickness if I have BPPV?

Yes. Though BPPV and Airplane Sickness are two different conditions, if you have BPPV it can make you more prone to have Plane Sickness. This is because during short episodes of vertigo it is normal for your brain to misinterpret what is happening and as a consequence you may feel sick.

If you would like to read more about airplane sickness have a look at this article on Airplane Sickness.

Where can I find more information on BPPV?

Civil Aviation Authority – Flight Crew, Private Pilots, Air Traffic Controllers and Cabin Crew have more stringent requirements. Contacting an Aeromedical Examiner (AME) here should be your first step.

ENTUK Vertigo – Here you will find guidance provided by the membership body representing ear, nose and throat surgery. It goes into more detail than the NHS Vertigo site, and offers you a look into how it is treated. Keep in mind BPPV is a condition that improves with head manoeuvres and rehabilitation exercises.

The Brain and Spine Foundation – This PDF guide offers perhaps the most extensive source of information to be found in one place. It covers most conditions that cause Dizziness and Vertigo. It’s particularly good because it offers advice on the mental health aspect of managing this condition. Keep in mind some of the manoeuvres are different for other ear conditions. Doing a good Epley Manoeuvre or Brandt-Daroff exercise is the best way to improve BPPV.

NHS Vertigo – This site offers general advice on vertigo, and when to see doctor about your symptoms. Because vertigo is a symptom of many other conditions, it isn’t specific for BPPV. But it is very helpful in pointing our red flags. Red flags are symptoms that should prompt you to see a doctor sooner rather than later.

Driving and Vertigo GOV.UK – Here you will find guidance of what you should do if you plan on getting behind the wheel of a car or motorbike with symptoms of vertigo.

Next Update August 2024.


Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

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