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  • Writer's pictureK.L.

The Science Behind: Dizziness

As a six-year-old, I loved playing "Ring around the Rosie". The concept was simply to keep spinning around while keeping your arms locked with your friends. I loved the sensation of getting dizzy. The world appeared to be one big swirl. But as I played this game, I kept asking myself, why do we get dizzy?

A Bit of Background:

To solve this mystery, we'll have to go inside your ear. It may sound a bit strange, but the way your ear is built has an impact on dizziness. Deep inside your ear are three semicircle-like tunnels. Each of these tunnels are perpendicular to each other, meaning that they are positioned 90 degrees to one another. These canals have a special fluid in them called endolymph.

Endolymph moves around in the canal as you move your head. Along with fluid, the canals in your ear also have small strands of hair lining them. These hairs are connected to a jelly-like substance called the cupula. Your ears can sense movement by feeling how the tiny hairs move back and forth in the liquid. Nerve cells then transmit this information to the brain. Thus, your ears sense movement.

The Physics of it All:

I know, I know! You must still be wondering why we get dizzy. You must be thinking, can't she reveal it already?! Well, to do that, I have to look into a tiny bit of physics. The principle of inertia states that if something is still, it will be still until another force makes it move. Likewise, something will keep moving until it is stopped. Take a swing for example. It won't move until you push it and it won't stop until it slows down over time due to loss of energy.

The Why:

It's the moment you've been waiting for! Finally, it's the answer to our main question; why do we get dizzy? As you gleefully spin in a circle, inertia causes the endolymph in your ear to move in the opposite direction of which your head is spinning. It resists the movement of your head, dragging the cupula and hair (which is now bending) along. Moments later, the endolymph and cupula (along with the hair) start moving in the same direction as your head in order to adjust to this “new” environment. As a response to this thought of everything being seemingly normal, the hair connected to the cupula straightens. Because of this, your brain thinks that you are still. But in reality, you are still spinning. Now, your perspective is that the world is rotating around you.

Finally, you stop spinning. Though you have stopped spinning, inertia causes the endolymph in your ear to spin for a little longer. However, this time, it deflects the cupula and spins in the same direction you were spinning in before. This causes the hair in the cupula to bend, giving the brain the signal that you are moving even though you are stationary. Basically, it gives you the feeling of dizziness.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it fulfills your curiosity!






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