Q. I have had some nasty allergies all of my 72 years. Usually, my head gets clogged up. Recently, my ears became involved and I experienced vertigo for the first time. Is this common?

We have to define terms first. Vertigo is the feeling that either you or your surroundings are spinning. It is more than being just lightheaded or dizzy, because you are subjected to the illusion of movement.

If you feel your body is moving, you have subjective vertigo. When you sense that your surroundings are moving, you have objective vertigo.

If you are experiencing vertigo, you should see a doctor for a check-up. Vertigo can be a symptom of a serious health problem.

About one in 10 people over 65 experience difficulty with balance. More than 40 percent of Americans will go to a doctor complaining of dizziness. Getting older is only part of the problem. Inner-ear disturbances are the primary cause.

The inner ear consists of a system of fluid-filled tubes and sacs called the labyrinth. The labyrinth serves two functions: hearing and balance.

Labyrinthitis is an ear disorder that involves swelling of the inner ear. If you get labyrinthitis, the parts of the inner ear become irritated and inflamed. This inflammation disrupts the transmission of sensory information from the ear to the brain. This disruption causes vertigo, dizziness, and difficulties with balance, vision and hearing.

The following raise your risk for labyrinthitis: allergies, viral illness, drinking large amounts of alcohol, fatigue, smoking, stress, and some drugs.

Labyrinthitis usually goes away within a few weeks. Medications that may reduce symptoms include antihistamines to reduce inflammation, compazine to control nausea, meclizine to counter dizziness, and sedatives.

There are other causes of balance problems. Here are few major ones:

Ÿ Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). With BPPV, one of the most common causes of balance problems, you get vertigo when you change the position of your head. You may also experience BPPV when you roll over, get out of bed, or when you look on a high shelf. BPPV is more likely in people over 60.

Ÿ Ménière's disease, which also can give you intermittent hearing loss, a ringing or roaring in the ears, and a feeling of fullness in the ear.

Ÿ Blood-pressure medications and some antibiotics. If you are taking any drugs in these categories and feel off-balance, it's worth discussing with your doctor.

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