If you ever spun around in circles with friends as a child, you may have reveled in that dizzy feeling. Although it may have been fun then, when this feeling suddenly hits you as an adult, it often isn’t as pleasant.
Whether you stand up from the couch too quickly or skip a meal, many of us become dizzy or light-headed from time to time. Occasional dizziness shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but if frequent or constant dizzy spells are impacting your daily life, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Most often chronic dizziness is caused by vertigo. “Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness characterized by the sudden sensation that you or the world around you is spinning or off-balance,” said Bruce Stewart, MD, an ear, nose and throat doctor with Banner Health in Tucson, Arizona. “It’s important to note that vertigo is a symptom, like a headache, and not a disease, so it’s important to find the root cause for this type of dizziness as treatment depends on the cause.”
To learn more, we dove into the common causes of vertigo and how they are often diagnosed and treated.
The three most common causes of vertigo are benign positional vertigo, inner ear infections, and Ménière’s disease. These conditions account for an astonishing 93 percent of all patient presentations.
Benign positional vertigo (BPV)
BPV, the most common type of vertigo, is caused when tiny calcium deposits, or stones, inside your inner ear canal get loose or move to places they shouldn’t, such as the semicircular canal. When you move your head in certain ways, the stones move causing a feeling of dizziness. Usually, this is brought on by some type of trauma to the head.
Inner ear infections (labyrinthitis or vestibular neuritis)
A viral infection of the inner ear or vestibular nerve can cause intense, constant vertigo. Bacteria from an ear infection or meningitis can also cause dizziness as well.
This disease is a chronic inner ear disorder that causes progressive deafness and recurring episodes of vertigo.
Other Potential Causes
- Migraines, such as vestibular migraines
- Low thyroid
- Neck disease
Diagnosis & Treatment
“To determine if it’s related to the inner ear or not requires a complete evaluation from a specialist, which may include an audiogram and electronystagmogram (ENG/VNG) to evaluate hearing and balance,” Dr. Stewart said. “Depending on those results, additional tests may include blood tests and imaging studies, such as a CT scan or MRI.”
When it comes to treating vertigo, treatment depends on the root cause. Some types of vertigo resolve on their own, while some people may require treatment for an underlying problem. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial infections or medications to relieve symptoms, such as nausea and motion sickness. Treatment for chronic causes such as migraines or Ménière’s disease may include medications.
Dr. Stewart added, “Ménière’s is most often treated with diet and diuretics. Avoidance of caffeine, nicotine, and salt is the first line of treatment and various office procedures and surgery can be used to manage more difficult cases.”
Some people may also benefit from physical therapy, or vestibular rehabilitation, an exercise-based program designed to improve balance and reduce problems related to dizziness. Surgery may be necessary if other treatments are ineffective.
When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention
“If at any time your dizziness is impacting your speech or vision, you should seek immediate medical attention as this could be a sign of something more serious, such as a stroke or heart attack,” Dr. Stewart warned.
If you are concerned about sudden and consistent bouts of dizziness, it’s time to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or an ear, nose, and throat specialist like Dr. Stewart. They can evaluate your hearing and balance and run any additional tests to determine what is causing you to spin.
To find a Banner Health provider in your area, visit BannerHealth.com.