There was nothing particularly unusual about the day Anne Haller’s world started spinning.
The 60-year-old Camas woman was in the middle of her normal morning yoga postures, something she’d done for years, when she felt like the room had tilted.
“It was just a little blip. So quick, I didn’t even know it had actually happened,” Haller said. “And then it happened again.”
Haller lost her balance. She felt as if the entire room was spinning around her body. Slowly, she made her way to a seated position on her mat.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Haller said. “I thought maybe I was having a brain aneurysm.”
A call to 911 brought emergency medical workers to Haller’s side.
“I couldn’t even move,” Haller said. “I knew there was something wrong with me.”
The paramedics had taken her vitals and said they looked fine, but they still wanted Haller to go to the emergency room.
Normally, that would have been fine, especially since Haller still couldn’t move without her world spinning out of control around her. But this was in early April and the COVID-19 pandemic had just been declared.
“I just didn’t want to go to the ER,” Haller said. “So I called my doctor and she diagnosed it.”
What Haller had just experienced is known as benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, or BPPV. One of the most common causes of vertigo, BPPV is more common in people, especially women, over the age of 50, and can cause intense dizziness, nausea and, as Haller realized, the sensation that you are spinning out of control.
“It’s like motion sickness. I literally could just sit on my bed. I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t even move my head side to side. I just sat and kept my head still,” Haller said. “It was debilitating.”
Luckily, Haller’s doctor knew a local physical therapy clinic — the same clinic Haller had gone to before for an elbow injury — that specialized in helping patients with BPPV.
Tiny crystals cause big problems
Physical therapist and orthopedic clinical specialist Mike Teater is the clinic manager of FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers in Camas, a business he co-owns with his wife, Kristin.
When Haller called for an appointment to treat her BPPV, Teater knew exactly what to do.
“Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is a mouthful, but it can happen to anybody,” Teater said. “It is especially common in (patients older than) 50 or 60, and it can be pretty intense.”
What happens before the classic “room spinning” vertigo is that tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear, which help maintain a body’s balance, break off — sometimes due to age, other times due to a head injury — and become lodged inside one of the six canals located deep inside the ears.
“When the crystals break off, it creates turbulence in the brain,” Teater said. “One ear is sending information (telling the body where it is in space), but the other ear is now sending something totally wacky.”
The mixed messages disrupt a person’s equilibrium and can make them feel like they’re spinning, extremely dizzy and nauseous, Teater said.
To help a patient suffering from BPPV, Teater must first figure out which of the six ear canals contain the misplaced crystals. Using infrared goggles with a camera in them, Teater records a patient’s eyes and watches for the movement of the pupils. Tilting the person’s head into various positions and then watching for specific eye movements lets the therapist know which canal contains the tiny crystal pieces.
“As soon as we know this, we can take them into the clearing maneuvers,” Teater said. “Patients with BPPV are usually miserable, so we want to give them relief right away.”
Some patients require more than one round of the crystal-clearing maneuvers, but many, including Haller, feel relief after just one session, usually within 15 or 20 minutes.
“We also want to make sure that the BPPV isn’t causing other issues with balance,” Teater said.
Spreading the word
For Haller, she said the treatment she received at the FYZICAL clinic was life-altering.
“I was definitely very impressed,” Haller said of her treatment with Teater. “I felt better right away, and I’m so thankful that I know someone who can treat it.”
The few days she spent in bed, wondering if her world would ever feel normal again “gutted” Haller. “It was really scary,” she said. “And there’s nothing really preventative you can do. It could happen again. They don’t know why it happens, but they do know it is more common in women over 50, so I’ve been telling all my friends, ‘If you have these symptoms, this is what it might be.'”
A Texas native, Haller moved to Camas in 2014 and said she loves her new community.
Now, she’s hoping to spread the word about BPPV, the FYZICAL center’s treatment.
“I want to let other people know about this. And let them know that there is a treatment,” Haller said. “The treatment is really bizarre, but the manipulations work. I had that one treatment and it was just gone. It was just amazing.”
To find more information about BPPV and other inner-ear or brain balance disorders, visit vestibular.org. The Camas FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center is located at 1905 S.E. 192nd Ave., Ste. 109. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information, visit fyzical.com/camas, call 360-210-5440 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.