Medically Reviewed on 3/2/2022
What is vertigo?
Vertigo is a false sense of motion that can occur while you are still or while you are moving. Feelings that you or everything around you is spinning or moving, loss of balance, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea are some of the main signs of vertigo.
Vertigo is a symptom that can be a sign of a more serious disease. Many people experience vertigo, and it is more than just dizziness.
Vertigo is a symptom rather than a disease. It is a false sense of motion that can occur while you are still or while you are moving. It is the feeling that you or everything around you is spinning or moving.
Vertigo can be positional, occurring when you move your head a certain way. You may feel like you’re spinning or moving after you tilt your head back and forth or side to side.
You may also experience disequilibrium where you feel unsteady or like you’re about to fall.
Signs and symptoms of vertigo
Sometimes people describe vertigo as dizziness, but it is more than feeling dizzy. It is the sensation that everything is moving. A vertigo attack can come on suddenly and last for minutes or hours. Severe vertigo can last for months and it is often a combination of multiple symptoms.
Vertigo symptoms may include:
- Feeling of spinning
- Loss of balance
- Feeling of floating
- Feeling of the floor tilting
- Feeling “spaced-out”
Some people experience vertigo with additional symptoms which may indicate other health conditions. These symptoms include:
- ringing in the ears
- ear pressure or pain
- ear drainage
- hearing loss
- double vision
- vision loss
Causes of vertigo
Anyone can develop vertigo, but it is usually caused by certain conditions. Vertigo may be caused by problems with the inner ear, or it may be caused by problems with the central nervous system. Vertigo can be a sign of a more serious condition. Causes of vertigo include:
Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear. The labyrinth is a part of your inner ear that controls your balance. When this part of the ear becomes swollen and infected, it can cause problems with balance.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
This kind of vertigo can be triggered by certain head movements. This is very common and usually develops because of a problem with the inner ear. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo symptoms usually include feeling like the floor is tilting or like you’re floating.
The vestibular nerve runs into the inner ear and communicates with your brain to control your balance. If this nerve becomes inflamed,you may have trouble sensing movement, which can lead to vertigo.
Severe headaches called vestibular migraines can cause dizziness, vertigo, temporary blind spots, and sensitivity to light and sound. People who have vestibular migraines usually have family members who also have a history of vestibular migraines.
Ménière’s disease is a rare condition that affects the inner ear and can cause ringing in the ear, hearing loss, and vertigo.
Head or ear injury
Head trauma and injury to the eardrum, inner ear, or base of the skull can also cause vertigo. Tumors on the inner ear nerves may also cause vertigo as they create pressure on the nerve that affects balance control.
Brain disorders like multiple sclerosis, stroke, seizures, and others can cause vertigo, though these are less common.
Certain medications used to treat seizures, depression, anxiety, and pain may cause vertigo as a side effect. They are toxic to the inner ear nerves and may cause damage. These include:
- Aminoglycoside antibiotics
- Alcohol and illicit drugs may also cause vertigo.
What is vertigo?
When to see a doctor for vertigo
Vertigo often gets better on its own. However, if it doesn’t get better, you should see your doctor. Sometimes vertigo is a symptom of another serious disease. Seek medication attention if you have vertigo with the following symptoms:
- Double vision
- Vision loss
- Trouble speaking
- Numbness or tingling in your leg or arm
- Trouble speaking
- Neck pain
- Facial paralysis
Tests for vertigo
Your doctor will take a list of your symptoms and your personal and medical history. They may ask about any events that might have happened leading up to your vertigo like if you fell or are taking new medications. They will do a physical exam to check your blood pressure, heart rate, and to check your ears.
Depending on your symptoms and history, your doctor may also do other tests,including:
- Balance and gait test called a Romberg test
- Balance test by walking a straight line with one food behind the other
- Hearing test
- Rotary chair testing
- Eye movement test
- Caloric stimulation
- Electroencephalogram (EEG)
- Electrocardiography (ECG)
- Heart monitoring
- Exercise stress test
- Imaging test of the head
Treatments for vertigo
Most cases of vertigo can be managed at home and usually get better without treatment. If it doesn’t improve, you should see your doctor. Treatment may be different, depending on the cause. Some vertigo treatments include:
- Antibiotics for an inner ear infection
- Physical therapy exercises to correct balance problems
There are some things you can do to reduce the number of vertigo attacks and to manage your symptoms. You can :
- Sit down when you feel dizzy.
- Move your head carefully and slowly during activities.
- Lie down and be still in a quiet, dark room.
- Raise your head slightly with pillows when you sleep.
- Turn on the lights if you get up at night.
- Sit up slowly.
- Get out of bed slowly.
- Use a cane or walking stick if you feel unsteady.
- Clench your hands and flex your feet before standing.
- Squat instead of bending over.
- Store items at lower levels so they’re easier to reach.
- Manage your stress.
Can an inner ear infection cause vertigo?
Vertigo is a disorder of the vestibular system, which includes the parts of the brain and inner ear that help us maintain control of our balance and eye movements. Health disorders like an inner ear infection can cause vertigo, which leaves you feeling like the room is spinning or moving.
When to see a doctor
You should make an appointment to see a doctor if you find yourself dealing with persistent signs of dizziness or vertigo. If these symptoms are severe and include excessive vomiting, you may want to visit an emergency room. Things to watch out for include:
- Fainting spells
- Problems speaking, hearing, or swallowing
- Difficulty moving one or more limbs
- Neck pain
If you decide to see a doctor, they will likely start with questions about your condition. They may ask about the details of your vertigo and other questions about your health history. They typically will proceed with a physical exam to check for health problems like an inner ear infection that could be causing your vertigo.
Doctors diagnosing vertigo often focus their attention on the ears and eyes. They may request other diagnostic tests to help them find out the cause of your vertigo.
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Medically Reviewed on 3/2/2022
Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations: “Vertigo and Associated Symptoms.”
Journal of Pharmacology & Pharmacotherapeutics: “Vertigo/dizziness as a Drug’s adverse reaction.”
National Health Service: “Vertigo.”
Merck Manual: “Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo.”
Merck Manual: “Dizziness and Vertigo – Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders.”
Merck Manual: “Meniere Disease.”
Merck Manual: “Vestibular Neuronitis.”
National Health Service: “Labyrinthitis and vestibular neuritis.”
Penn Medicine: “Labyrinthitis.”
St. Thomas Medical Group: “Vertigo May Affect As Many As 40% of Adults Age 40+.”
Vestibular Disorders Association (VEDA): “What Are the Symptoms of a Vestibular Disorder?”