Dizziness: What You Need To Know

By Medically reviewed by Panel Perubatan Hello Doktor

In this article:

  • Knowing the basics
  • Identifying the symptoms
  • Determining the causes
  • Reducing the risk factors
  • Understanding the treatment
  • Treating the condition through lifestyle changes & home remedies

Dizziness is a feeling of being lightheaded and woozy, making it impossible for you to balance and may cause a fall. The pathogenesis of of this condition is complex, as the sense of navigation and balance of the vestibulocochlear nerve experiences anomalies. Although there are many causes, any damage to the vestibular nerve or the inner ear (where the cochlea is located) can lead to dizziness. The most common cause is a vestibular disorder (paroxysmal vertigo), which is benign.

Knowing the basics

What is dizziness?

It is not a disease, but rather a symptom of various disorders. It is often described as feeling faint, weak or unsteady. Sometimes it can create a false sense of spinning or moving in your surroundings. 

Dizziness can be effectively treated depending on the cause, but it may recur. In most cases, it is not so serious and usually goes away if the underlying cause is treated. If it affects your daily life, you may take certain medications to reduce the symptoms.

Please bear in mind that dizziness is not a disease, but it may be a symptom of certain disorders.

Identifying the symptoms

What are the signs and symptoms of dizziness?

Seeing as dizziness could be a symptom of other disorders, its accompanying symptoms include:

  • A false sense of motion or spinning
  • Unsteadiness or a loss of balance
  • A feeling of floating, wooziness or heavy-headedness

You may experience nausea, vomiting, excessive sweating, abnormal eye movements, tinnitus, and reduced sensations. It usually does not last long and would disappear in a few minutes or a couple of hours.

There may be other symptoms which could show when you have dizziness. Please consult a doctor if you experience any abnormalities.

When do you need to see a doctor?

Seek medical help if you experience dizziness along with:

  • Sudden or severe headache
  • Constant vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest pain or irregular heartbeat
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever
  • Neck ache
  • Head injury
  • Epilepsy disorder

Determining the causes

What causes dizziness?

The causes of dizziness vary due to the type of dizziness. In general, there are two types which are divided based on their distinctive causes. 

1. Peripheral vertigo

Peripheral vertigo is the most common type of dizziness, commonly associated with problems in the inner ear, which controls the body’s balance.

As you move your head, the sensory nerves and inner ear send messages to the brain about body movements. It also detects gravity differences as well as back-and-forth motion. However, if a problem occurs in the inner ear, you would feel pain and dizziness. This could be due to inflammation in the inner ear or a viral infection.

Vertigo is also caused by:

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)

This condition is the most common type of vertigo, in which the vestibulocochlear nerve is triggered due to a rapid change in head orientation and movement. For example:

  • Tipping the head up or down
  • Sitting up in bed
  • Turning over

Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo is more likely to occur in those who have undergone ear surgery, have a history of head injury, prior ear infections, or those in convalescence.

This condition usually occurs for a short time and is common among people aged 50 years and older. However, young people could also experience benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.

Head injuries

Vertigo may occur due to medical history, which means those who have experienced head injury may have inner ear disorders that can cause vertigo.

Infections of the inner ear

This is an inflammation that occurs in the inner ear, which is often caused by viruses and bacteria. Those with the flu or cold may experience this condition.

If a person has dental inflammation, other symptoms would also show, such as nausea, vomiting, loss of hearing, ear pain, and fever.

Vestibular neuritis

Vestibular neuritis is an inflammation that occurs in the vestibular nerve. This inflammation is a viral infection which is often confused with labyrinthitis, but the former does not cause loss of hearing.

This condition can cause intense and constant vertigo. The symptoms include balance issues, headache, nausea, and vomiting.

Ménière’s disease

Ménière’s disease occurs in the inner ear. Although Ménière’s disease is rare, it can cause sudden vertigo that could last for several hours. In some cases, you may also experience fluctuating hearing loss, ringing in the ear and the feeling of a plugged ear. Other symptoms include nausea or diarrhea, blurry vision, and anxiety. Although the disease is quite severe, the reason why people contract Ménière’s is still not clear.

2. Central vertigo

In contrast to peripheral vertigo caused by disorders of the inner ear, central vertigo refers to problems within your brain or brainstem.

Certain diseases or brain injuries that cause central vertigo are:

  • Migraine – a condition in which you experience unbearable headaches with throbbing pain. This condition often appears among young people. There is no cure for migraine headaches but many medications can treat or prevent them.
  • Multiple sclerosis – a neurological disorder that occurs in the central nervous system – the brain and spinal cord. The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. It is considered an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues.
  • Acoustic neuroma – an inherited disorder in which a benign tumor develops on the vestibular nerve leading from your inner ear to the brain. 
  • Brain tumor – attacks the cerebellum, resulting in body imbalance.
  • Stroke – occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked or ruptures.
  • Taking certain medicines may cause vertigo as a side effect.

Reducing the risk factors

Who experiences dizziness the most?

Dizziness is very common and may affect people at all ages. You can prevent dizziness by reducing the risk factors. Speak to a doctor if you experience any abnormalities.

What factors increase the risk of dizziness?

There are many factors that increase the risk of getting dizzy, they include:

  • Age – Older adults are susceptible to experience dizziness since they are more likely to harbour medical conditions.
  • Previous episodes of dizziness. If you have experienced dizziness before, you are more likely to become dizzy in future.

Understanding the treatment

The information provided herein is not a substitute for any medical advice. Therefore, ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is dizziness diagnosed?

The most important thing to do is to diagnose the underlying cause of dizziness, as it may be a symptom of other worrying diseases. At first, the doctor would ask for more information, such as when you experienced dizziness, its frequency, and other symptoms that accompany dizziness. The following are certain diagnostic methods:

  • Clinical examination
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or computerised tomography (CT) scan if suspected of stroke
  • Neurological physical examination
  • Hearing and balance test, which may include:
    • Eye movement testing
    • Head movement testing
    • Posturography
    • Rotary chair testing

How is dizziness treated?

Dizziness usually goes away without treatment. If you seek treatment, the doctor would recommend specific types depending on the causes.

Medications:

  • Dizziness relief medicines such as antihistamines, anticholinergics, scopolamine patches, etc.
  • Anti-nausea medicines
  • Anti-anxiety medicines such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Migraine relief medicines

Balance therapy: Learning specific exercises that help make your balance system less sensitive to motion.

Surgical or other procedures:

  • Injecting gentamicin (antibiotic) into the inner ear to disable the balance function, to alleviate dizziness.
  • Remove the inner ear sense organ, which is responsible for the sense of balance.

Treating the condition through lifestyle changes & home remedies

Which living habits help you reduce dizziness?

You may be able to reduce dizziness if you take the following measures:

  • Being more careful when waking since the body may be imbalanced.
  • Avoiding sudden change in postures, or using a cane to walk safely if necessary.
  • Keeping clean and clutter-free the walking surfaces at home 
  • Sitting or lying down immediately after feeling dizzy
  • Avoid driving or operating equipment and machinery while feeling dizzy
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes. 
  • Reducing the amount of salt in your food.
  • Drinking enough clean water, following a healthy diet, and getting adequate sleep to reduce stress.
  • Being aware of the side effects of medications.
  • Resting in a cool place and drinking water if the dizziness is caused by dehydration.

Dizziness with a specific cause can be treated easily. However, if the cause is vestibular disorders (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), a recurrence may occur and last for a few days. Vestibular rehabilitation exercises and medicines may be taken during this period. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding stressful situations could also help reduce the risk of recurrence.

If you are concerned about any red flags with your health, please consult a doctor for advice on the best treatment.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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