What causes dizziness?

A number of conditions can cause dizziness because balance involves several parts of the body. The brain gets input about movement and your body’s position from your:

  • Inner ear.
  • Eyes.
  • Muscles.
  • Joints.
  • Skin.

Inner ear disorders are frequently the cause of feeling dizzy. The most common causes include benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), Meniere's syndrome and ear infections.

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) makes you dizzy when you change your head or body position (like bending over). It usually only lasts a few seconds or minutes. This harmless condition happens when calcium crystals in your inner ear move out of place.

You may have BPPV as a result of a head injury or simply from getting older. The good news is that the treatment is easy. Your healthcare provider can lead you through a series of simple moves, called canalith repositioning procedure (CRP). These movements get the crystals back to their proper position.

Meniere’s syndrome

Meniere’s syndrome involves having too much fluid in the inner ear. Experts aren’t sure why it accumulates. Anyone can develop Meniere’s, but it’s most common in people ages 40 to 60. If you have Meniere’s syndrome, you may also experience:

Meniere’s attacks usually happen suddenly. They can last from 20 minutes to 24 hours. Treatment methods include anti-nausea and anti-vertigo medications. Lifestyle changes may help, too, including:

If your condition doesn’t respond to simple measures, your healthcare provider may recommend more aggressive treatments. Those include injecting medication directly into the ear and surgery.

Ear infections

Viral or bacterial ear infections can cause inflammation (irritation) in the inner ear. The inflammation interferes with the messages your inner ear sends to your brain.

A nerve in the inner ear, the vestibulocochlear nerve, has two branches. Each branch communicates with the brain:

  • The vestibular nerve sends signals about balance. When the vestibular nerve is inflamed, you develop vestibular neuritis.
  • The cochlear nerve sends signals about hearing. If inflammation also affects the cochlear nerve, you develop labyrinthitis. Labyrinthitis also causes ringing in the ears and hearing loss.

Ear infection treatments include medications to relieve the symptoms of nausea and dizziness. You might also need antibiotics, antiviral drugs or steroids.

Other causes of dizzy spells and lightheadedness

There are many other factors that can cause dizziness. Within the heart and vascular system, conditions that can cause dizziness include:

Brain-related conditions that can cause dizziness include:

Additional conditions that can cause dizziness include:

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/25/2020.


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