Do I really have CRYSTALS in my ear?
It is common that when an individual presents with dizziness or vertigo, they will be told, “You have some loose crystals in your ear, that’s all.” Usually this does not come with a follow up explanation. So let’s talk about this.
Do you really have loose crystals in your ear? Well … yes …. and no. As health care providers, we often simplify our explanation or use analogies so that information is remembered and understood. We want to transfer power (remember: knowledge = power) to our clients so that they can make the best decision about their health care. But the “crystal’s in the ear” analogy needs further explanation.
The vestibular system network sits deep inside each of your ears but it is completely separate from the ear function (ie. sound and hearing). Within the vestibular system network, there is a structure called the utricle which houses otoconia. Otoconia are small particles of calcium carbonate. These are what we call “crystals”. These crystals can fall out of the utricle. Think about pebbles in a sock: with enough force or the right angle of movement, the pebbles can fall out. When the crystals fall out of the utricle (like the pebbles falling out of a sock), they don’t enter the ear space. The utricle is connected to a canal, a small tube of fluid, and when the crystals move out of the utricle they move into the fluid of the canal. But they aren’t supposed to be in there and they produce chaos – they create dizziness and vertigo!
Let’s go back to the question. Do you really have loose crystals in your ear?
Yes: There are particles of calcium carbonate that resemble small crystals that exist in your vestibular system.
Yes: They can become dislodged from their container and are therefore, loose.
No: They aren’t in your ear, but the canal that they disrupt sits deep to the ear, so it’s easiest to describe it as being in the ear.
So next time you hear the phrase, “loose crystals in your ear”, think about A Body in Motion. Vestibular physiotherapy can help move those loose crystals back to where they belong.
Caitlinn Thompson, Registered Physiotherapist