Vertigo

Disorders of your balance system (inner ear) can cause giddiness called vertigo.

Symptoms

If you have vertigo, you may feel as though you are spinning, falling or tumbling in space, or standing still while your surroundings are moving.

Vertigo often begins suddenly and may vary in intensity. It may be constant or it may come and go.

Vertigo or giddiness is often mistaken for light-headedness or dizziness. Light-headedness is a feeling that you are going to lose consciousness or faint (pass out). This feeling isn’t caused by an inner ear problem but is due to a lack of oxygen flowing to the brain.

If you have vertigo it’s normal to feel out of control and frightened – but in most cases, the causes of vertigo aren’t a serious health threat.

If you have vertigo you may also have these symptoms:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • tinnitus or ringing in your ears
  • decreased hearing
  • ear pain.

Causes of vertigo

Some people with vertigo have a disorder of the nerve that ends in the part of the inner ear called the labyrinth or balance organ. There can also be problems with the balance organ itself such as:

  • build-up of fluid
  • infection
  • tumours.

One common cause is called benign positional vertigo (BPV). This is usually brief, and related either to infection or a loose object or matter moving inside the balance organ. The vertigo is worsened by changes in head position – such as standing from lying, or rolling over in bed.

Your doctor may show you some exercises that are designed to dislodge the loose object or matter. Antihistamine and anti-nausea medications may also help to relieve your symptoms.

Many cases of vertigo will resolve on their own.

Problems outside the inner ear can also cause vertigo. These include:

  • medications
  • injury to the brain
  • migraine, with or without headache.

When to see your doctor

Because there are many causes of vertigo in addition to inner ear problems, it’s important to find out what might be the cause in your case.

Vertigo may go away or reduce when the underlying cause is treated. In some cases surgical procedures may be a part of the treatment.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

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