What is dizziness?
Healthcare providers describe dizziness as having impaired or disturbed spatial orientation. You might describe dizziness as feeling woozy or light headed. You may feel as if you need to sit down before you fall down. Frequent or severe dizziness may affect your quality of life. People experience dizziness in different ways, including:
What causes dizziness?
Dizziness happens when something affects your sense of balance. A stable sense of balance requires a steady flow of information from your ears, eyes, tissues and central nervous system. Your central nervous system uses this information to tell your body how to maintain balance.
When something disrupts the flow, your central nervous system can process information incorrectly and you can feel unsteady and dizzy. Inner ear disorders, neurological conditions, medications and even stress may make you feel dizzy.
Inner ear disorders
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). People with BPPV feel a spinning sensation when they move their heads.
- Labyrinthitis. Inflammation in your labyrinth, the inner ear system that’s responsible for hearing and balance.
- Vestibular neuritis. This disorder affects the vestibulocochlear nerve of your inner ear.
- Persistent postural perceptual dizziness (PPPD). Dizziness that’s triggered by things or activities going on around you, like being around crowds. PPPD symptoms come and go.
- Inner ear infections. Inflammation in your inner ear from viral or bacterial ear infections may interfere with the messages your inner ear sends to your brain.
Other medical conditions
- Anemia. Anemia is not having enough red blood cells. Dizziness is a common anemia symptom.
- Acoustic neuroma. Noncancerous tumors in your inner ear may affect your balance and make you feel dizzy.
- Cardiovascular issues. Issues that affect the flow of blood to your brain such as irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), low blood pressure, (hypotension) or narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis) may make you feel dizzy.
- Concussion. This head injury damages your brain and causes dizziness, among other symptoms.
- Neurological diseases or disorders. Migraine headaches, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are examples of neurological disorders that affect your sense of balance and make you feel dizzy.
Other common causes
Medical conditions and other issues that may cause dizziness include:
- Anxiety and stress. You may feel dizzy if you hyperventilate because you’re anxious or under stress.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning. Breathing in carbon monoxide causes dizziness.
- Dehydration. Dizziness is a symptom of severe dehydration.
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Sudden dizziness is a hypoglycemia symptom.
- Medications. Blood pressure medications often cause dizziness.
- Motion sickness. Motion sickness may make you feel dizzy and affect your balance.
Care and Treatment
How is dizziness treated?
Dizziness treatment depends on the cause. For example, if you’re dizzy because you have an inner ear infection, your healthcare provider will treat the infection. If you’re taking medications that make you feel dizzy, your provider may recommend you limit activities until your body adjusts to the medication. Some people benefit from a vestibular test battery to help determine if dizziness is due to an inner ear problem and vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) to help treat the dizziness. Vestibular rehabilitation therapy involves exercises to manage dizziness symptoms.
Can I treat dizziness at home?
No, but you can manage dizziness. If you’re feeling dizzy, lie down until dizziness passes. When you get up, be sure to move slowly and carefully.
What are the possible complications or risks of not treating dizziness?
Dizziness may not seem as if it’s a symptom of a serious issue, but you should still talk to a healthcare provider if you’re frequently dizzy:
- Dizziness may be a symptom of medical conditions that could get worse if left untreated.
- Dizziness is a balance issue, increasing your risk of falling and possibly being injured.
- Dizziness may make it unsafe for you to drive vehicles.
- Sometimes, dizziness may make it hard for you to work or manage your daily tasks and responsibilities.
Can dizziness be prevented?
The best way to prevent dizziness is to find out why you’re dizzy. For example, if you become dizzy when you’re dehydrated, you may prevent dizziness by drinking enough water. If you take blood pressure medication that makes you dizzy, your healthcare provider may prescribe a different medication or dosage. Unfortunately, you can’t predict or prevent all things that cause dizziness, such as a neurological disorder.
When to Call the Doctor
When should a healthcare provider treat dizziness?
Talk to your provider if:
- Dizziness affects your ability to go about your day.
- Dizziness doesn’t go away or keeps coming back.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the difference between dizziness and vertigo?
With vertigo, you have a sensation that you’re moving through space or your surroundings are spinning. Dizziness is an overall feeling of being unbalanced.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Everyone has dizzy spells — a sudden wooziness that comes and goes. But some people have severe or frequent dizziness that disrupts their daily lives. Talk to a healthcare provider if you often feel very dizzy. That way, you’ll know why you’re dizzy and what you can do to manage dizziness.
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