BPPV is an inner ear disorder that can cause short but severe spells of vertigo (a spinning sensation), especially if you tip your head backwards – for example, if you look up at the sky or when you first lie down or turn over in bed. If you have BPPV, you’ll feel as if your head is turning when it isn’t. The vertigo usually lasts for less than 30 seconds, but you may feel light-headed and unsteady for several minutes or hours afterwards.
It’s thought that BPPV is caused when small calcium crystals within the inner ear are dislodged from the part of the ear that senses gravity and move to the part that senses head position.
BPPV commonly occurs for no obvious reason, particularly in older people, but it can develop after a head injury, ear surgery, prolonged bed rest, or following an inner-ear infection or disease. It may occur alongside other inner ear conditions such as Ménière’s disease.
What treatment is available?
Most people recover over several weeks, even without treatment, but symptoms can sometimes last much longer and may recur. In most cases, a specialist can reduce some, if not all, of the symptoms of BPPV by using a simple procedure known as the ‘Epley’ manoeuvre, in which they guide you to perform a series of different head positions. This moves the crystals into another part of the inner ear, where they don’t cause balance problems
To find out more about other balance disorders, see our factsheet Dizziness and balance problems.