Sunday, January 31, 2010

Vertigo and Alfred Hitchcock

As soon as you step off the aptly named carnival ride "Tilt-a-Whirl" it might take you few minutes to gather your sea-legs. In that brief moment you may be experiencing Vertigo, where it seems the space around you is spinning and you are like a wobbly top trying to maintain your berring. The sensation is accurrately captured in Alfred Hitchcock's classic, "VERTIGO" which stars Jimmy Stewart as a bay area police detective afflicted with the condition whenever he finds himself at a vista point of altitude.

Benign paroxysmal position vertigo (BPPV) is the medical diagnosis and according to the Vestibular Disorder Association it accounts for about 20% of diagnoses made by doctors specializing in dizziness disorders. It's more common in adults aged 50 and over - but what causes this form of vertigo?

Well, first we need to understand a little bit about how our inner ear works (you might remember some of what you learned in 4th grade Health studies.) Our inner ear works similar to a gyroscope, our bodies are free to make comlex movements from spins to summersaults all while maintaining balance. Of course there's a little more to it than that - our "gyroscope" is made up of three semicircular liquid-filled canals - when the body moves, the fluid inside the canals moves, bending tiny hairlike nerve endings that send electrical impulses to the brain, sending reflex actions to balance the body.

Within our inner ear is a small pouch containing little crystals of great importance to our balancing act. The crystals (called octonia) stimulate nerve cells that help guide us when we move our heads up and down. Sometimes a crystal or two becomes dislodged and enters the canal which signals to the brain that our head is moving a lot more than it really is:Vertigo.

Head injuries, viruses, extremely loud sounds and age can trigger a sudden bout of vertigo. It can last from a few minutes to a few days and in severe cases it might even be chronic.

Wait a minute, Jimmy Stewart doesn't appear to have any of these root causes in the movie. It seems he is suffering more from a fear of heights - or acrophobia. But I'm no expert, I just enjoyed the movie and the title intrigues.