Vertigo and Dizziness

Vertigo and dizziness are common symptoms that can impact an individual’s balance and perception, causing difficulties in daily activities. Bouts of either vertigo or dizziness can also prove dangerous by causing a stumble or fall. In addition, going about daily tasks becomes a challenge, and driving a motorized vehicle, or any vehicle for that matter, often proves impossible.

Although vertigo and dizziness are often used interchangeably, they describe two very different sensations and can have various underlying causes. Dizziness and vertigo can occur at any age but are far more common in older adults.


Dizziness is a broad term for lightheadedness, feeling faint, or unsteady sensations. It is not a disease itself but rather a symptom of various conditions.

Depending on the cause, dizziness can be triggered by something simple or can be a symptom of a more complex problem involving the inner ear, neurological disorders, or other systemic conditions.

Infrequent occurrences of dizziness are typically not a cause for concern. It can occur because of a drop in blood pressure or the flow of blood to the brain when you stand up too quickly for a seated position or after lying down. However, if the feeling of dizziness persists, then it may indicate an underlying health problem and you should schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider.

Common causes of dizziness include:

  • Illnesses such as the common cold or influenza.
  • Allergies
  • Dehydration from excessive vomiting, diarrhea, and fevers
  • Hyperventilation
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Extended bed rest
  • Use of drugs, marijuana, tobacco or alcohol
  • Certain medications such as sleeping aids, muscle relaxers, or opioids
  • On occasion, dizziness can occur from bleeding. The bleeding may not be obvious (occult). If you are losing a small amount of blood via your digestive tract over days or weeks, you may not be aware you are even bleeding
  • Heavy menstrual bleeding
  • Dizziness is often one of many symptoms of an abnormal heart rhythm (referred to as arrhythmia). In such a situation, the dizziness may lead to fainting spells (syncope). Any time you experience unexplained fainting you need to seek immediate medical care.
  • Many prescription and nonprescription medications list dizziness as a possible side effect.


Vertigo is a specific type of dizziness characterized by the sensation of spinning or having one’s surroundings spin. It is more than feeling dizzy; vertigo is the perception of movement where there is none, which can be highly disorienting and impairing.

The brain relies on information it receives from four sensory systems to maintain balance and orientation. Sufferers experience vertigo when their brain is confused by conflicting signals sent from various areas of the body.

Vision: Vision lets you know where you are in the world by providing your position and your sense of motion. It is a key component in how your body maintains its balance. In many situations, vision provides the greatest control over balance.

Sensory Nerves: Within your joints are sensory nerves that send signals, so the brain always knows the exact position of your torso, arms, and legs. These signals stimulate your brain to make changes in posture needed to maintain balance.

Skin Pressure: The sense of pressure provides your brain with much-needed information about motion or the placement of your body.

Inner Ear: The labyrinth of the inner ear contains cells that can detect motions or any changes in the body’s position. If the inner ear sustains an injury, then it can send false signals that the brain misinterprets. The signals may suggest the inner ear is detecting motion when there is none.

Common causes of vertigo include:

  • Inner ear disorders such as Meniere’s disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), vestibular neuritis, or labyrinthitis
  • Injuries
  • Migraines, often coupled with sensitivity to light, smell, noise, nausea, and vomiting
  • Vertebrobasilar insufficiency occurs when there is a decrease in blood flow through the arteries at the base of the brain
  • Cholesteatoma is a noncancerous growth that arises behind the eardrum.
  • Motion sickness
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Drug or alcohol withdrawal
  • Prescription and non-prescription medications

Less common causes of vertigo:

  • Cancerous or benign brain tumors
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Stroke

If you are experiencing dizziness or vertigo, especially prolonged concerns, it’s important that you visit a qualified ear nose, and throat specialist like Dr. Boger to understand more about your condition and diagnose any underlying concerns that need to be addressed.