Growing older brings a whole host of new conditions and sensations that we might not necessarily be aware of. One of these is a lack of balance – you never stop hearing about “old” people falling. It could be because we’re less stable and lose our balance, or there might be more to it. Vertigo and light-headedness become more common as we get older, especially as we head north of 60. While the two are similar, the latter can be the result of a few contributing factors while vertigo is a condition on its own. Both are often described as dizziness, which can lead to balance problems, falls, and broken bones. Here’s how to tell the difference between them.

My head is spinning! What is Vertigo?

It’s that feeling of the world and your surroundings spinning. If you’ve not experienced it yourself I’m sure you’ve seen a film where someone inebriated is lying down with one foot on the floor, trying to stop the world from spinning. Well vertigo is exactly that feeing, except standing up!

Vertigo is typically associated with trouble in the ear – infections, inner ear fluids and the like. Because of its random timing, vertigo can become really annoying. If you feel like the world is spinning and you don’t have a good reason why, check it out. It’s generally nothing serious, but it’s worth fixing it of you can. Short spells of a spinning sensation usually aren't life threatening, but could play havoc if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The most common type of vertigo is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This happens when crystals in the inner ear are dislodged. Check with your doctor or medical practitioner – some simple head movements can send the crystals out of the ear canal back to the right place.

I think I’m going to faint…What causes light-headedness?

Feeling light-headed is when you feel unsteady or like you’re about to faint. It can happen for a multitude of reasons. Dehydration and low blood sugar or pressure are two common causes of feeling faint. Make sure you stay hydrated and eat regularly. Other causes can be certain medications, heart conditions and other illness. If you regularly feel light-headed and don’t know why, it’s best to consult your doctor or medical practitioner.

Avoiding dizzy spells

When you’re dealing with vertigo, even the most basic of actions could get you wobbling. But, why does this happen? The vestibular system – situated within your inner ear – helps give you a sense of balance and spatial orientation when you move. It sends signals to the brain about where your body is in space – as in your physical orientation. You are far more likely to experience vertigo when this system is not in alignment – these are those crystals we mentioned earlier.

So how do you avoid getting dizzy when you move? Make sure that you focus on aligning your head when you exercise or do certain movements. Be careful not to hold your head in a strange or uncomfortable position that could shift the crystals in your ears. If you’re not sure how to do this, your doctor or health practitioner will be able to help you.