Dizziness is a common experience, but how often it occurs and what other symptoms accompany it determine the severity or if disease is present.
Learn how to know the difference between a harmless dizzy spell and something more serious.
Cause For Alarm
Occasional mild dizziness is nothing to worry about when other symptoms are absent. However, if the dizzy spells recur, if they’re severe enough to warrant lying down, or if they’re accompanied by double vision, incontinence, arm/leg weakness, severe headache, or difficulty swallowing and speaking; there is cause for alarm and you should see your doctor right away. These symptoms could indicate that you are on the verge or are having a stroke, brain tumor, aneurysm or another potentially life-threatening problem.
Common Types of Dizziness
Some types of dizziness may require and/or respond to treatment, while others are simply something the patient has to learn to live with. Common types include:
A mild turning sensation, which can be caused by almost any systemic ailment, including transient ischemic attacks, multiple sclerosis (MS) and even AIDS. Some women may have mild turning during their menstrual period or as a side effect of hormone replacement therapy or menopause.
Imbalance, which is a swaying or wobbling feeling that can be caused by influenza, infection, arthritis, diabetes, compression of the spinal cord or another metabolic disorder. Imbalance can also be brought on by alcohol abuse, depression, certain medications (including cough medicine and blood pressure drugs), and anxiety (accelerated breathing hampers the flow of oxygen to the brain).
Vertigo, which is the sensation of spinning that often accompanies migraine headaches and other diseases.
Feeling of faintness, which is often the result of postural hypotension, the brief period of reduced blood pressure that occurs when you stand or sit suddenly. It can be brought on by certain medications as well, including antihypertensives, antihistamines, sedatives and antipsychotics.
When dizziness is the result of AIDS, MS, or menstruation, it tends to linger and is even resistant to treatment. So other coping strategies may need to be used to get relief.
Dizziness From Ear and Brain Disorders
Persistent dizziness that isn’t linked to an underlying illness is usually the result of brain or inner ear problems.
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, for example, occurs when a person moves his/her head in a certain position – typically when lying on your back and then rolling your head quickly to one side. This condition isn’t life-threatening, but it can be deadly if it happens when driving or standing up. It can be brought on by head trauma or damage to the nerves in the middle ear.
Vestibular neuronitis is sudden vertigo, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, and occurring a few days or weeks after recovery from a viral infection. It is believed to be the result of inflammation to the vestibular nerve, which connects the brain and inner ear.
Ataxia is a loss of coordination, usually caused by the death of brain cells, but it can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies or heavy drinking. This chronic condition is usually irreversible.
Meniere’s disease is a set of related symptoms, including vertigo attacks, roaring, ringing or hearing loss in one ear, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Meniere’s disease is usually caused by fluid buildup in the inner ear.
Ear infection that causes fluid buildup in the middle ear can cause everything from mild imbalance to severe vertigo.
Treatment for Dizziness
For treatment, you should see an otolaryngologist or neurologist that specializes in dizziness, who you can locate through the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Dizziness brought on by inner ear problems and persistent nerve damage tends to clear up on its own in time. With vestibular neuronitis, dizziness may persist for years even with drug treatment.
Dizziness from ataxia, MS and other neurological disorders may be permanent. Surgery is also an option for Meniere’s disease. Some patients have recovered well with rehabilitation exercises. A typical exercise involves rotating the head left to right slowly and progressively faster for 20 seconds.