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What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a condition that causes you to 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. Any of the following can cause vertigo:

  • Small particles that float in the inner ear fluid move out of place and cause irritation
  • Ménière disease
  • Swelling of the nerve in your ear caused by an infection
  • Ear trauma that causes an abnormal connection between the inner and middle ear
  • An inner ear infection that causes swelling, eardrum thickening, or abnormal skin growth in the ear
  • A neurologic condition such as multiple sclerosis, migraine, tumor, or stroke
  • Panic and anxiety disorders
  • Alcohol in large amounts

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:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble with your balance
  • 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 your eyes

How is vertigo diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider 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 healthcare provider 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:

  • An electronystagmography (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 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 nauseated after the test.
  • An auditory brainstem response (ABR) test is used to play a series of clicks through headsets on your ears. A machine measures how your cochlea and nerves react to the clicks.
  • An MRI may be used to check for problems that can cause vertigo. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the 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 healthcare provider may suggest that you rest in bed, avoid certain activities, and change some of the foods you eat. Medicines that may be causing your vertigo may need to be decreased or stopped. You may also need any of the following:

  • 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 healthcare provider may give you antibiotics.
  • Surgery may be done to correct certain problems in the ears or brain
  • Therapy may be used to help decrease your dizziness, improve your balance, and prevent injuries.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss
  • You have blood, pus, or fluid coming out of your ears.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your dizziness does not go away.
  • You have some hearing loss or hear ringing or buzzing in your ears.
  • You have questions about your condition or care.

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.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.