Vertigo is a condition where a person has the sensation of movement or of surrounding objects moving when they are not. Often it feels like a spinning or swaying movement. This may be associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulties walking. It is typically worse when the head is moved. Vertigo is the most common type of dizziness.
A person with vertigo experiences a sense of spinning and dizziness. Vertigo is a symptom of a range of conditions. It can happen when there is a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.
Causes of Vertigo
Vertigo is often caused by an inner ear problem. Some of the most common causes include:
BPPV. These initials stand for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. BPPV occurs when tiny calcium particles (canaliths) are dislodged from their normal location and collect in the inner ear. The inner ear sends signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity. It helps you keep your balance.
BPPV can occur for no known reason and may be associated with age.
Meniere’s disease. This is an inner ear disorder thought to be caused by a buildup of fluid and changing pressure in the ear. It can cause episodes of vertigo along with ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.
Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis. This is an inner ear problem usually related to infection (usually viral). The infection causes inflammation in the inner ear around nerves that are important for helping the body sense balance
Less often vertigo may be associated with:
- Head or neck injury
- Brain problems such as stroke or tumor
- Certain medications that cause ear damage
- Migraine headaches
Symptoms of Vertigo
Vertigo is often triggered by a change in the position of your head.
People with vertigo typically describe it as feeling like they are:
- Pulled to one direction
Other symptoms that may accompany vertigo include:
- Feeling nauseated
- Abnormal or jerking eye movements (nystagmus)
- Ringing in the ears or hearing loss
Symptoms can last a few minutes to a few hours or more and may come and go.
How is vertigo diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your symptoms. They may also recommend one or more tests to confirm your diagnosis.
What tests will be done to diagnose vertigo?
Vertigo can be diagnosed with tests performed by your healthcare provider. These may include:
- Fukuda-Unterberger’s test: You’ll be asked to march in place for 30 seconds with your eyes closed. If you rotate or lean to one side, it could mean that you have a problem with your inner ear labyrinth. This could result in vertigo.
- Romberg’s test: For this assessment, you’ll be asked to close your eyes while standing with your feet together and your arms to your side. If you feel unbalanced or unsteady, it could mean that you have an issue with your central nervous system.
- Head impulse test: For this test, your provider will gently move your head to each side while you focus on a stationary target (for example a spot on the wall or your provider’s nose). The clinician will be checking to see how the inner ear balance system is working to help control your eye movements while your head is in motion.
- Vestibular test battery: This includes several different tests to help identify an inner ear problem. Goggles are placed over the eyes to monitor eye movement responses while moving your eyes to follow a target, moving your head and body, and even after warm and cool water are put into the ear canal.
In addition to the tests outlined above, your healthcare provider may request radiographs. These may include:
- CT (computed tomography) scans.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Will vertigo go away on its own?
Vertigo goes away on its own in many cases. However, there are several treatments that can successfully manage vertigo.
What are common vertigo treatments?
The vertigo treatment that’s right for you depends on several factors, including the root cause. Some of the most notable vertigo treatments include:
- Medication: Treating the underlying cause of your vertigo can help ease symptoms. For example, if vertigo is a byproduct of an infection, your healthcare provider can prescribe antibiotics. Steroids can help reduce inflammation. There are also medications to relieve other vertigo symptoms, such as nausea or motion sickness.
- Vestibular rehabilitation: If vertigo is the result of an inner ear problem, this type of physical therapy may help reduce your symptoms. Vestibular rehabilitation helps strengthen your other senses so they can compensate for vertigo episodes.
- Canalith repositioning procedure (CRP): If you have BPPV, canalith repositioning maneuvers help move calcium deposits into an inner ear chamber where they will be absorbed by your body.
- Surgery: When vertigo is due to a serious underlying issue, such as a brain tumor or neck injury, surgery may be necessary.
Are there any home remedies for vertigo?
There isn’t enough evidence to prove that vertigo can be treated with alternative therapies. However, some people take herbal supplements to ease their symptoms. Popular herbal vertigo remedies include:
- Ginkgo biloba.
- Ginger root.
Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before adding any herbal supplements to your diet. They can help you safely incorporate them into your regimen.
How do I stop vertigo attacks?
There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk for vertigo. These include:
- Taking extra time to stand up, turn your head or perform other triggering movements.
- Sleeping with your head elevated on two pillows.
- Sitting down as soon as you feel dizzy.
- Squatting instead of bending over when picking something up.
Vertigo is a feeling of spinning dizziness, but it may also mean someone feels lightheaded, sick, or has ear problems.
Vertigo is a symptom of various conditions where someone has a problem with the inner ear, brain, or sensory nerve pathway.
Conditions that may cause vertigo include labyrinthitis, vestibular neuritis, Ménière’s disease, and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). Some individuals experience vertigo when they are pregnant.
Sometimes vertigo resolves on its own. Other times a doctor recommends medication or lifestyle changes to help. They may also advise surgery under some circumstances.