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Seven Causes of Dizziness and Vertigo

Kim lived with dizziness and vertigo for a long time before hearing a diagnosis, so understands the frustration of not knowing the cause.

In a Spin

In a Spin

What's Going Wrong?

Many people experience some form of dizziness in their lifetime. It's a common reason for a trip to the doctor. Unfortunately, there are numerous causes of dizziness and vertigo, so pinning down the culprit can be tricky.

It's helpful for the doctor to know what you mean by "dizzy." Are you talking about a sensation within yourself, or a feeling that the world around you is moving?( vertigo.) How long does the dizziness last? Does anything seem to set it off? How did the problem first present itself?

There are times it seems fun to make yourself dizzy - look how children giggle on the park roundabout, or how people queue for rides at a fairground. It's no laughing matter when you experience dizzines out of the blue, or feel "drunk" trying to carry on normal life.

This is an overview of some, but by no means all, causes of dizziness and vertigo, along with links for further information. For tips on coping with the problem, try reading Eight ways to cope when you're dizzy.

Please see your doctor for further help and diagnosis.



Inflamation of the inner ear, most often caused by a virus. Labyrinthitis sometimes follows another infection, such as a sore throat or the flu. The onset can be quite sudden and dramatic, with room-spinning vertigo and nausea or vomitting. Your sense of balance can go haywire, from having trouble walking straight, to a milder floaty feeling. It can also lead to tinnitus - ringing in the ears- and a degree of hearing loss, with a sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear. You may feel drunk or hungover without using alcohol.

The effects of the virus usually settle on their own, though this may take a while. If the infection is bacterial, treatment with antibiotics will be needed. In the short term, certain drugs can help reduce the dizzy sensation and nausea. However, dampening the dizziness makes it harder for the brain to learn how to overcome the faulty signals. Keeping as active as possible once the early stage has passed should help the compensation process. Although it may be uncomfortable, it's worth persisting with normal activities. Most people recover quickly with no lasting problems.

For those who suffer longer term difficulty, a great website is

How labyrinthitis develops

Vestibular Neuritis/neuronitis

This condition is similar to labyrinthitis, but does not affect hearing, or lead to tinnitus. It only involves the vestibular nerve, not the auditory nerve. Again, usually attributed to a virus, though it's possible that a disruption of blood flow to the nerve could be a cause. As with labyrinthitis, it can result in permanent nerve damage, and problems with balance, which the brain will most likely learn to overcome.

For those who have difficulty recovering, and as with labyrinthitis, treatment using vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) may prove useful. Referral by a doctor to a clinic specialising in VRT is recommended. There are exercises available on the internet, but having a professional show you the correct method is very useful. The wii fit balance board is an aid in rehab for balance function, and can be beneficial. It's best to start gently and build up time practising. Recovery can be a slow process, but perseverance pays.

Damage to nerves can show up during the caloric test for dizziness, though the test doesn't diagnose all inner ear conditions.

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Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo - BPPV

Tiny particles become misplaced in the semicircular canal of the inner ear, exaggerating response to movement. This results in short burst of vertigo, usually lasting a matter of seconds. Movement such as looking up, turning to the side, or rolling over in bed are likely to bring on symptoms.

The condition may resolve itself over time, or you could be offered treatment with a procedure to help move the particles from the area - the Epley Maneuver. This involves specific head movements, illustrated in the video below.

The Epley maneuvre

Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease usually comes in attacks of vertigo, sickness, and loss of hearing, though not everyone experiences hearing loss. Attacks can last several hours,and are of an unpredictable nature. They may come without warning, though some people have a sense that one's about to happen. Between attacks you may feel normal, or experience imbalance.

Living with such a variable condition is very difficult. Over time, the attacks may change in presentation, eventually lessening in dizziness. Often the hearing loss becomes worse. The disease has no cure at present but can generally be controlled with the aid of drugs. Reducing salt intake is also advised, as the body is sensitive to fluid levels.

Acoustic Neuroma (Vestibular Schwannoma)

A benign (non cancerous) growth on the acoustic nerve, this is a rare cause of dizziness and one-sided hearing loss. Sometimes there will also be a degree of facial numbness, and possibly tinitus. An MRI scan can diagnose this problem.

The tumour is usually slow growing, symptoms will gradually increase. It is rarely life threatening, and will not spread to other parts of the body. This can be treated, if need be, by radiotherapy or surgical removal.

Postural Hypotension

Also known as orthostatic hypotension, this is a problem with blood pressure dropping when changing position, for example rising from a chair, tilting your head back, or bending to pick something up. It can cause a "headrush" type dizziness, blurred vision, and even fainting. Certain prescription drugs, including some anti-depressants and hypertension (high blood pressure) pills, may have a side effect of inducing the condition.

Postural hypotension becomes more common with age. Making sure you have enough to drink is important, to help keep blood volume sufficient. It's best to take time rising from a chair or bed, so the circulation has time to adjust. Falls in older people can be a risk. The condition should be assessed by a doctor.

Migraine Associated Vertigo - MAV

If you have a personal or family history of migraine, it's worth considering this as a cause for dizziness and vertigo. Most people think of headache when migraine is mentioned, in fact a headache is not always present. Sometimes a person has had bad headaches in the past, then think they've outgrown the problem, but it can present in a different way.

If you suspect migraine, it's worth keeping a food diary to look for triggers. Common culprits are caffeine, citrus, strong cheese, chocolate, and red wine. Some people find they are affected by certain weather conditions, such as heavy rain or storms. Flourescent lights can be a cause. Ladies may find problems worsen around the time of menstruation, as hormones can be a contributing factor.

There's no specific test for migraine, more a process of elimination . It may be worth discussing migraine preventatives, such as beta-blockers, with your doctor to use on a trial basis. If you see an improvement while on the medication, that's likely to mean migraine is the culprit.

Whatever the cause of dizziness and/or vertigo, it's an unpleasant sensation to deal with. Having a diagnosis and being able to understand what's happening is helpful. Hopefully, treatment or further advice will then be available.

It's worth noting that a person can have more than one condition causing their symptoms. For example, someone may have vestibular neuritis, and also migraine associated vertigo, or BPPV. Treating each element brings the best results.

As previously stated, the points included here are not a full list of causes. Please see a doctor for medical help.

© 2012 Kim Kennedy


NewLifeOutlook on March 19, 2018:

What an interesting and informative hub! I've heard about how difficult it is to diagnosis Meniere's Disease and how many people who have it, go undiagnosed for long periods of time. I'm also aware of how vertigo and dizziness can be common in conditions like depression and COPD, but I wasn't aware that it can also affect those with migraines too. I will definitely be looking more into MAV. Thank you!

bobby on March 14, 2015:

Started happening to me yesterday. Woke up fine put my head down and everything started spinning, I got pale and puked, if I lie down bend over or get up I get dizzy, lose balance. Today it's better but still keep losing balance and feel a little dizzy at times. It's so weird

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on October 06, 2013:

Matt, you're welcome. There are people who have more than one condition, which complicates things. It seems like once you have a weakness in the inner ear you may be more prone to additional problems. I didn't start to improve until migraine was under control. Fingers crossed for you.

Matt on October 05, 2013:

I have had on and off dizziness for 6 years. Just started one night woke up and was very dizzy. I have seen countless specialists and have been diagnosed with menieres disease, BPPV, ect. I am trying medication for migraine and it seems to be helping with the vertigo and constant off balance I feel. Dr. thinks I may need higher dose to get back to normal. I am hopeful. Thanks for info innerspin

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on May 30, 2013:

Hello Kathleen, sorry to hear about your problem. I don't know what LTD is I'm afraid. You can try a Google search for neurotologists within your region. If a neurologist has diagnosed ataxia that would probably account for your balance issues, though some people have more than one cause of problems.

Kathleen on May 29, 2013:

I have had balance problems now since 2005. I was on LTD until last year. I've been to three neurologists, one of them diagnosed me as having Ataxis (problem with my cerebellum). I would like to see a neurotologist. Do you know of one? I live in the Okanagan but would be willing to travel to see one.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on May 08, 2013:

You're very welcome. Sometimes, half the battle is being able to learn about your condition, and feel understood, not dismissed. Then you can flourish anyway!

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 08, 2013:

Innerspin, I appreciate the extra help! Your hubs are awesome and this advice is as well.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on May 08, 2013:

FlourishAnyway, I feel for you. People with dizziness can often fall between specialties in medicine, and when one consultant has decided it's not their department, the patient can be left hanging. This happened to me for three years. It may be worth researching if you have a neurotologist available in your area, they have extra training in problems with dizziness and the inner ear.

If not, look into hospitals with a Balance Center, or ENT consultants who specialize in inner ear function. Best wishes to you,and thanks for commenting.

FlourishAnyway from USA on May 08, 2013:

Very helpful hub. I've been living with dizziness on and off (mostly on) for about 2 years. My neurologist took my head and did a strange figure 8 examination maneuver with it then claimed it was not neurological. I have balance problems and sometimes nausea. Terrible feeling. At least now I know what else may be the possible culprits. Thank you.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on January 31, 2013:

Hi Vickiw, thanks for the comment. I think there are always exceptions to the "rules" in medical conditions. The main thing is that you seem to be on the mend.

Vickiw on January 31, 2013:

Oh, so good to find your information on my recent illness! The only thing is, BPPV lasted for much longer than seconds! I thought it would never end. Thanks for finding me. I see you have other really interesting topics too. I will vote up and follow.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on January 17, 2013:

Sorry to hear you get dizzy, tattuwurn. My first thought is, check what kind of lighting is at your work desk. If it's flourescent, see if you could change it to something else. Flourescent lights can flicker, the human eye's not supposed to register it, but it does make some people - me included - feel odd. Some are worse than others. Also, make sure you don't have your computer screen too bright. Unfortunately periods do seem to increase symptoms of some forms of dizziness. The joys of womanhood! Thanks for your comment and votes.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on December 13, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, Judi Bee. Sorry to hear about your migraines. They can make me go squiffy, spaced out and dizzy, not always with the headache. I hope your migraines don't last too long. Take care.

Judi Brown from UK on December 13, 2012:

It's migraine for me, usually. As you say, migraine presents itself in different ways - when I was a child I would vomit, now I have headaches and shut down. On the way to the shut down I have co-ordination problems, which can include dizziness. Good hub!

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on November 05, 2012:

Sorry to hear you and your daughter have dizzy problems. Not much fun! I gave up caffeine a while back, it did help to some extent. I appreciate your vote and share.

Catherine Taylor from Canada on November 05, 2012:

Very well written and helpful. I have suffered on and off with vertigo and dizziness as does one of my girls. Migraines were the culprit in the end. Too much caffeine. Voted up and sharing. Very well done.

Kim Kennedy (author) from uk on September 13, 2012:

Thanks for commenting, kristyleann, I intend to expand on this hub and will include side effects from meds. Silly of me to miss it out as one of my meds had this effect. I'm a dizzy blonde- not the blondest lady, but more than dizzy enough to make up for it. EMT is a pretty intensive job, that must have been a drag.

Kristy LeAnn from Princeton, WV on September 13, 2012:

This is interesting. I've never heard of a lot of these conditions. I've had orthostatic hypotension before though and in my case it was a side effect of the anti-depressant Cymbalta. It was pretty inconvenient for me since I was working as an EMT at the time and jumping up suddenly to go on a call is a pretty big part of the job lol...fortunately it wouldn't last too long but I had to give myself several seconds for it to go away.

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