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Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review; Balance & Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

Quite awhile ago now, in the "green, environmentally friendly" section of a local store I came across Barbara Kingsolver's, "The Prodigal Summer". I enjoyed the book as a wonderful novel with very real characters that made me think- but not too hard.

I passed the book on to a friend. She was very excited to discover, in the book, a section where one of the characters performs a "maneuver" on another character that cures dizziness. My friend explained that her naturopath had performed that same procedure on her to cure Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). While she was explaining her symptoms, another friend having coffee with us, reported she had the very same symptoms. She's next in line for the book!

So in another one of those; "the universe is trying to tell you something" moments, another friend, not connected to the first two (are you still with me?) tells me the other day that he has been told he should try something called the "Epley Maneuver" to treat his symptoms of dizziness that his doctor believes is caused by BPPV.

BPPV is apparently quite a common cause of dizziness, particularly as we age. For people who have it, an upward tilt of the head, usually to one side or the other is likely to cause extreme dizziness which may be accompanied by nausea. It is sometimes called "top shelf vertigo" because that type of titling your head up movement, may cause the dizziness. Other problem movements include rolling over in bed from one side to the other or sitting up to get out of bed. Any movement that changes the position of the head with respect to gravity can cause the symptoms. One of the ways to distinguish BPPV as the cause of dizziness is if your dizziness can be triggered when lying down. In most other causes of dizziness, the person feels worse on standing and better when lying. The opposite is true for those with BPPV.

If you think back to grade 8 biology class, you might remember that within your inner ear you have a system of canals called the saccule and utricle. These canals are filled with fluid that shifts according to your heads' position relative to gravity. The movement of this fluid stimulates hair cell nerve endings in the canals which send messages to your brain to tell you whether you are up, down, or sideways. One of the canals, the utricle, also contains deposits of calcium carbonate. This material can form crystals. These crystals are officially called otoconia- unofficially they are referred to as "ear rocks". Ear rocks normally go through a process of formation and reabsorption without causing a problem. But, if one of these rocks finds it's way into the canal, it can stimulate those hair cell nerve endings and send out the confusing message that you are moving. This doesn't quite match up with the rest of your body and the result is a very uncomfortable sense of acute dizziness and loss of balance- you are no longer sure of your body's position relative to gravity, and humans don't like that uncertainty!

Barbara Kingsolver's book is set in the Appalachian mountains. There are three central characters who are, all in different ways, trying to achieve balance with nature. One is studying coyotes and trying to save them from extinction, another is trying to find her way as a suddenly widowed farm wife with some new farming strategies that aren't "normal" to others, and the third, Garnet, is trying to restore an ancient chestnut tree species through human dominance which clashes severely with his organic farming neighbour.

Garnet, is the one with BPPV. Like many people with this condition, he is quite convinced he has a very severe pathological condition that is likely to be his ultimate demise. It is the organic farmer who ends up applying a maneuver that completely relieves him of the vertigo, restoring balance to much more than his inner ear.

The book is fiction, but the maneuver the organic farmer applies is a very accurate portrayal of the Epley Maneuver. You can find videos, descriptions, and diagrams of this procedure through a quick check on the Internet. It is something a physician might do for you, but also something you can do at home. The maneuver won't cure your dizzy spells if they are not due to ear rocks. Dizziness can be a sign of something more dangerous and shouldn't be ignored. But, if your vertigo is because of BPPV- this maneuver could radically improve,and possibly eliminate, your symptoms. It is achieved by positioning your head and body in a particular cycle of movements that takes less than 3 minutes each cycle. For many people, a one time treatment of the 3 cycles is enough to dislodge the rock back to it's appropriate spot. For others, the maneuver needs to be repeated once a night for a week.

I love a book that gives me painless, no preaching, entertainment, at the same time as I "accidentally" learn something. "The Prodigal Summer", does just that. I learned a lot about coyotes, farming, agriculture,and botany, as well as the Epley maneuver. But most of all I just enjoyed a great book. It's a book worth reading. Pass it on to anyone that's dizzy!!

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