Dizziness is a common term used to describe many different sensations. When you feel the world around you is spinning or tilting, making you feel off balance, that’s vertigo. It’s not often a sign of a serious medical condition, but rather a problem with your body’s senses.

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Symptoms and Causes of Vertigo

Vertigo causes a spinning, whirling sensation and leaves you off balance. It differs from feeling lightheaded. Sometimes you may feel nauseated or even vomit when you have severe vertigo.

Inner ear disorders are the most common culprit of vertigo. Structures in your inner ear send messages to your brain that help you maintain a sense of balance. When those structures are damaged or infected, they can send false signals. Some causes of vertigo include:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – Calcium stones in the inner ear help you maintain balance. When these move into a different area of the inner ear, you get a feeling of dizziness.
  • Meniere’s disease – A disease of the inner ear, which also causes ringing in the ear and sometimes hearing loss
  • Infection or inflammation of inner ear nerves and structures
  • Migraine headaches
  • An injury to the head or ear

Vertigo is most common among older adults, but it can happen at any age.

Treatment for Vertigo

Often the symptoms of vertigo will come and go. Move slowly and carefully and try to sit down to avoid falling. If you have any sudden changes in hearing, balance, or functioning, or if you faint or vomit, get medical help right away.

BPPV usually resolves on its own. If it doesn’t, a doctor can advise you on simple movements you can do to help the calcium stones move back to their proper position.

Changes to your diet may also help you reduce the symptoms. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, and review your medications with your doctor to see if any of them could be causing your symptoms.

The biggest concern of vertigo, particularly for older adults, is the increased risk of falling. If you’re having trouble coping with vertigo on your own, you may want to talk to your doctor about vestibular rehabilitation or balance therapy. This form of physical therapy is designed to help you overcome dizziness, gain stability and balance, and reduce your risk of falls.

Always talk to your doctor about your symptoms, being as specific as possible about what you’re experiencing, and share any other symptoms that come along with the dizziness to make sure it’s not a sign of a more serious problem.

About Ear Nose and Throat

The experts in the UPMC Department of Otolaryngology treat a variety of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions in both children and adults. Our team includes board-certified physicians and highly skilled speech-language pathologists and audiologists. We provide both surgical and nonsurgical treatment options. Our research and clinical trials help to advance care for our patients. Find an ENT expert near you.