What is benign positional vertigo (BPV)?

Eric E. Smouha, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)

Benign positional vertigo is a very common inner ear disturbance that causes spinning vertigo when lying on one side, bending, or looking up. The particle-repositioning maneuver (or “Epley maneuver”), a simple office procedure, can effectively eliminate this symptom in almost every instance.

Benign Positional Vertigo (BPV) or Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a common disorder of the vestibular (inner ear) system. Small calcium carbonate crystals are a normal part of everyone’s inner ear but sometimes get dislodged and move into one or more of the semicircular canals where they don’t belong. When this happens, you get BPPV.

It’s called Benign because it’s not life threatening, Paroxysmal because it comes on quickly and then lets up when you hold still, Positional because symptoms are brought on by specific movements or positions of the head or body (such as rolling in bed, lying down, or bending over), and Vertigo because it causes a spinning sensation. Though the vertigo usually lasts less than a minute each time, it can be intense enough to cause severe imbalance, disorientation, and nausea. 

A few interesting BPPV facts:

  • It can occur at any age but is more common as we get older.
  • It occurs slightly more often in women than in men
  • It may result from head trauma or infection but often just comes out of the blue with no known cause.
  • It can occur with disorders or on its own.
  • About 30% of patients who have had BPPV once will get it again. 

BPPV sometimes goes away on its own over a period of a few weeks, but there’s no sense in just waiting and hoping, because BPPV is easily treated. Simple movement-based treatment procedures can be done by a specially trained audiologist or physical therapist once BPPV is identified. For roughly 93% of patients, symptoms resolve completely within one or two treatment sessions!

Benign positional vertigo is a condition where the inner ear balance organs on one side mistakenly send signals to the brain that make it seem that one is moving, although one may not be moving. Hence, an individual feels a spinning sensation called ‘vertigo.’ The balance organs send these erroneous signals because debris in their fluid-filled cavities cause the signals to be sent. It is a benign condition, and there are maneuvers that help to move the debris out of the way and relieve symptoms.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is a type of peripheral vertigo that involves brief (paroxysmal) episodes of vertigo. These brief episodes occur when the head is moved into certain position (positional), such as forward as you sit or stand. BPPV is a benign inner ear disorder, meaning not life-threatening or serious.

Continue Learning about Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.