Sleep Apnea and Dizziness

What causes dizziness? Typically, the fluid in the inner ear serves as a balance indicator. When the fluids move, receptor cells send “we are moving” signals to the rest of the brain. Sometimes, fluid movement continues when body movement does not. This provides a sense of dizziness. Unfortunately, infections of the inner ear or damage to movement receptors can induce frequent feelings of dizziness. When the body is under a lot of stress, it becomes more susceptible to damage and infections. As we have learned, untreated sleep apnea induces huge amounts of stress on the body. So, in that case, might there be a relationship between sleep apnea and dizziness?

This question was investigated at Amasya University by comparing dizziness symptoms in those with mild and moderate sleep apnea. The Dizziness Handicap Inventory questionnaire was used to assess dizziness frequency and severity. This questionnaire includes items that ask about whether dizziness becomes worse when looking up, walking down the aisle of the grocery store, walk around in the dark, etc. There are also questions addressing whether dizziness affects functionality and social participation. For instance, “Because of your problem, are you depressed?” In addition, the vestibular (balance) system was examined using videonystagmography, a technique that tracks eye movements in relation to moving objects in order to see if any slowing (indicative of vestibular dysfunction) occurs. Results from questionnaires and videonystagmography were compared in those with mild (less than 15 apneas per hour) and moderate-severe (more than 15 apneas per hour).

Results showed that those in the moderate-severe group had many more vestibular issues, as assessed by the videonystagmography testing. It was also shown that the number of awakenings that occurred during the night (likely as a consequence of apneas and hypopneas) was related to scores from the dizziness questionnaires. In other words, the more apnea-induced awakenings someone had, the worse the reported life disturbances attributable to dizziness. 

This study is interesting, as it addresses dizziness, which may seem like a typical occurrence to some. It seems that in this normal population, dizziness is more prevalent in those with apnea. It may be that after sleep apnea treatment is administered, these symptoms will leave and functionality will return to normal. If you are suffering from dizziness and also believe you may have sleep apnea, be sure to get tested and get treated!

 

References:

Kayabasi, S., Iriz, A., Cayonu, M., Cengiz, B., Acar, A., Boynuegri, S., & Eryilmaz, A. (2014). Vestibular functions were found to be impaired in patients with moderatetosevere obstructive sleep apnea. The Laryngoscope.


Janna Mantua

Author

Janna is a PhD Student / Graduate Research Assistant at University of Massachusetts Amherst with a background in clinical sleep research and psychology. Janna Mantua is a PhD student in the Behavioral Neuroscience department at the University of Massachusetts. Her research focuses on sleep and aging, with specific projects on cognitive health, inflammation, memory formation, and neuroimaging. Prior to her PhD work, Janna was involved in research on sleep apnea and cognitive decline at the NYU Sleep Disorders Center.



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