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What is vertigo?

Vertigo is when you feel dizzy. You may think that you or your surroundings are spinning even though you are not moving.

What causes vertigo?

The inner ear is filled with fluid and contains a nerve and small organs that help you maintain your balance. Vertigo may be caused by diseases or conditions that affect your inner ear or the part of your brain that controls balance. These conditions include the following:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo: This is also called benign postural vertigo or benign positional vertigo. It happens when the small particles that float in the inner ear fluid move out of place and cause irritation.

  • Meniere disease: This is when the pressure in the inner ear increases because of too much fluid.

  • Vestibular neuritis: This is swelling of the nerve in your ear caused by an infection.

  • Other causes:

    • Ear trauma: Ear trauma may cause an abnormal connection between the inner and middle ear. Injuries to the head and neck, side effects of medicines, and chemicals may cause ear trauma.

    • Infections: Inner ear infections may cause swelling, eardrum thickening, or abnormal skin growth in the ear.

    • Neurologic conditions: Multiple sclerosis, migraine, tumor, or stroke may cause vertigo. Mood, panic, and anxiety disorders may also cause vertigo.

    • Alcohol: People who drink too much alcohol may have vertigo.

What are the signs and symptoms of vertigo?

You may feel that you or everything around you is moving or spinning. You may also feel like you are being pulled down or toward your side. Symptoms may occur after you change positions, such as when you turn over in bed or move your head or neck. You may have nausea or vomiting. You may also have trouble with your balance, which may cause you to fall. Other signs and symptoms may help point to the disease or condition that is causing your vertigo. These may include the following:

  • Sensitivity to light or sound

  • Weakness, slurred speech, problems seeing or moving, or increased sleepiness

  • Facial weakness and headache

  • Hearing loss, ear fullness or pain, or hearing ringing sounds

  • Fast, uncontrolled movement of the eyes

How is vertigo diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about what triggered your vertigo, when it started, and how long it lasted. You may also be asked about past diseases, travels, activities, trauma, and medicines. Your caregiver may move your head in different directions. This will check to see if a problem in the inner ear is causing your vertigo. You may be asked to do some exercises that could make you dizzy. You may also need one or more of the following tests:

  • Electronystagmography: This test is also called an ENG. An ENG is done to test for problems you may have with balance or dizziness. Sticky pads with wires are placed on the skin around your eyes. The wires are connected to a special machine that records information during your ENG. Warm and cool air or water is put into your ears while your eye movements are recorded. Do not drink alcohol or eat a heavy meal before this test. You may feel dizzy or sick to your stomach after the test.

  • Auditory brainstem response (ABR) test: This test plays a series of clicks through headsets on your ears. A special machine is used to measure how your cochlea and nerves react to the clicks.

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • An MRI of the head takes pictures of your brain, blood vessels, and skull. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is vertigo treated?

Treatment will depend on the condition causing the vertigo. Your caregiver may suggest that you rest in bed, avoid certain activities, and change your diet. Medicines that may be causing your vertigo may need to be decreased or stopped. You may also have any of the following:

  • Medicines: Medicines may be given to relieve your vertigo. You may also be given medicine to relieve symptoms caused by vertigo, such as nausea, vomiting, and headache. If a bacterial infection is causing your vertigo, your caregiver may give you antibiotics.

  • Surgery: Surgery to correct certain problems in the ears or brain may be done.

  • Therapy: A form of exercise therapy may be used to help decrease your dizziness, improve your balance, and prevent injuries.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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