Why am I Dizzy?

November 12, 2012

Why am I Dizzy?

What is Dizziness?

Being dizzy or having a bout of dizziness is quite common and usually it doesn’t indicate any serious condition. Dizziness is a general description of a number of feelings. It can be any or all of the following, light headedness, a loss of balance or a feeling of spinning or movement. Vertigo, light headedness or dizzy are three words are that are often used to describe the same feelings. Most people use them interchangeably. A medical term for light headedness is “presyncope.” This feeling of being lightheaded, dizzy or having vertigo can also involve feeling nauseous and having pale or clammy skin.

If you know the reason for your dizzy spell, for example you jumped up out of the chair too quickly then don’t worry about it. But if you are getting bouts of dizziness regularly or they come on without warning or cause, then it’s best you go and get it checked out. The vast majority of cases are not severe. However sometimes dizziness does indicate a more serious problem which requires medical treatment.

Common Causes of Dizziness

If you have a short but quite severe bout of dizziness, especially if it happens when you shift your head, then you may have one common cause of dizziness. This is called BPPV, which is the much shortened name for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. It can happen anywhere, even if you just rearrange your sitting position or move in bed.

Debris which has collected in the inner ear appears to be the cause of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). The medical name for this debris is otoconia but it is also known as “ear rocks” and consists of small crystals of calcium carbonate.

About 20% of all dizziness is due to BPPV. Although BPPV can sometimes occur in children it is the older people that are more affected, and the more likely it is that your dizziness is due to BPPV. About 50% of all dizziness in older people is due to BPPV. In extreme cases hospital treatment may be the best option.

Another common reason for dizziness is an inner ear inflammation or infection. This can be the reason for suddenly becoming dizzy, with the feeling lasting for several days. Common symptoms can be feeling nauseous, vomiting and being imbalanced. This will normally feel quite severe, but the symptoms will disappear without treatment.

If you have a build up of fluid in your inner ear then it’s possible that you have Meniere’s disease. This can cause the dizziness to remain for up to two or three hours after coming on suddenly. Many people have an infection in their inner ear following a cold or flu. This is called Labyrinthitis and frequently causes dizziness and vertigo.

Other less common causes for vertigo include migraines. Sometimes a migraine sufferer feels dizzy. The condition known as acoustic neuroma indicates that a benign growth near your inner ear is present. This condition can develop into tinnitus and lead to a gradual loss of hearing.

Rare Causes of Dizziness

Multiple sclerosis can also cause vertigo, while a stroke or brain hemorrhage will give similar indications. However with all of these problems other indications such as slurred speech, difficulty walking or problems seeing may also be present.

A sudden drop in your blood pressure can cause dizziness. This is more common in the older person and can happen just by getting up too quickly. A drop in blood pressure can be due to severe shock in the more serious cases.

Heart problems can lead to your heart running inefficiently. If this is the case then the heart will pump too little blood around the body. This causes a feeling of being light headed. Although with heart attacks there will be other symptoms present including chest pain and increased heart rate, possibly with vision changes or speech difficulty.


Balance can be defined as “a state in which a body or object remains reasonably steady in a particular position”. Put simply it is about your ability to remain standing or sitting without falling over. Your inner ear has the responsibility for providing your balance controls. It maintains your balance so if the inner ear has a problem then your sense of balance is affected.

Other parts of the body or conditions which can have an effect on balance are:

  • Eyes, if you have impaired vision other sensory organs must adapt.

  • Nerve damage in your legs. (This is more common in older people)

  • Osteoarthritis – muscle problems can lead to loss of balance easier.

  • Neurological conditions – Normal pressure hydrocephalus, Parkinson’s disease and spinal cord disorders all impact on the patient’s ability to remain balanced.

  • Anxiety can be the reason for dizziness.

Additionally some medications can cause dizziness. Particularly tranquillizers and sedatives but some anti seizure medications can affect balance too.

Can Dizziness be Treated?

Whenever the cause for the dizziness has been diagnosed then there will be particular treatments available. In some cases the treatment is more general.

BPPV can be treated at home or in a doctor’s office. By use of specific body movements it is hoped to remove the debris from its present location to a less sensitive part of the ear. This is reported to have an up to 80% success rate and is known as canalith repositioning. Some patients even choose just to “wait it out” and see if the debris moves itself over time.

Inner ear treatment depends on the inner ear problem. Sometimes balance retraining exercises are successful and help regain balance control. A physical therapist must be involved here to demonstrate and teach the appropriate exercises.

Sometimes medications are required with vestibular problems because they are often associated with nausea. Common medications used to lessen the symptoms are, meclizine (Antivert), diazepam (Valium) and dimenhydrinate (Dramamine).

To treat Meniere’s disease involves changes to diet. Additionally sometimes diuretics are taken because they reduce the body’s fluids and this lowers the fluid build up in your inner ear.

If you become dizzy when you are having a migraine attack then it should be considered another symptom of the migraine. The most successful treatment is to identify the triggers for the migraine and avoid them. This can mean changing your lifestyle including diet, reducing stress, getting more sleep and exercising more.

Anxiety disorders really need a specialist input. Visit a psychotherapist who may well prescribe medications that may help.

If you take medications which cause dizziness then talk to your doctor about whether other medications may help reduce the symptoms.

How to Avoid Dizziness

Depending upon the cause some helpful actions can take place. If you have an ear, nose or throat infection, then treat it. Congestion build ups can increase the likelihood of developing dizziness.

Don’t stand up suddenly, sudden posture changes can be a cause of blood pressure dropping and hence causing dizziness.

If you do become dizzy then take a rest, relax until the feeling passes. Remember that in the vast majority of case dizziness resolves itself.


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