Medically reviewed by Daniel Combs, MD
Vertigo is a strong sensation of dizziness or the feeling that the room around you is spinning. It's common to mistake vertigo as a health condition. However, vertigo is a symptom that occurs as a result of several other conditions that affect your vestibular system (a sensory system in your inner ear that helps regulate balance and spacial awareness) or the brain.
You can develop vertigo suddenly or gradually. In acute (sudden) cases, you might have an illness such as an ear infection that causes symptoms. However, chronic conditions like Ménière disease or having a tumor can cause vertigo to occur over time. In some cases, you might develop vertigo after having a stroke or experiencing a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Knowing the symptoms of vertigo can help you figure out the underlying cause of your dizziness and help you understand when to reach out for medical care.
While vertigo is a symptom itself, there are two different types of vertigo you can experience: peripheral and central. Regardless of the type of vertigo you have, the most common symptom you'll experience is dizziness.
It's important to note that vertigo dizziness is not the same as lightheadedness. Instead, vertigo dizziness makes you feel like you are spinning or that the space around you is spinning. Lightheadedness, in contrast, is the feeling that you are close to fainting.
Peripheral Vertigo Symptoms
Peripheral vertigo develops suddenly and occurs when you have an infection or problem in your inner ear. Most people who experience vertigo have the peripheral type, which accounts for about 80% of all cases.
In addition to dizziness, peripheral vertigo can cause:
Nausea and vomiting
Hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
Central Vertigo Symptoms
Central vertigo is caused by a problem in the brain rather than the vestibular system. This type of vertigo is less common than peripheral vertigo and may occur as a result of chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, strokes, seizures, tumors, blood vessel disorders, or vestibular migraine.
Aside from dizziness, it's common to experience the following symptoms with central vertigo:
Symptoms in Children
Vertigo isn’t very common in children, but when it does occur, symptoms are usually similar to those in adults. Keep in mind: vertigo in children has fewer causes. If your child developed vertigo, it’s usually due to vestibular migraine or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)—a type of dizziness that can occur when you move your head too fast. In some cases, children can develop vestibular migraine. However, this is more likely to occur in kids with a family history of migraine.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you have a mild illness affecting your upper respiratory system, it’s not uncommon to experience a few episodes of vertigo until you’re fully recovered. But you should see a healthcare provider as soon as possible if you:
Have vertigo that persists without any clear underlying cause
Recently experienced a head injury
Can’t go about your daily life without experiencing vertigo
Fall down because of your dizziness
However, some accompanying symptoms warrant immediate medical attention. These symptoms include:
Sudden, severe headache
Difficulty breathing or swallowing
Numbness or weakness in the limbs
These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition and getting the medical care you need can prevent serious complications from occurring.
A Quick Review
Vertigo is a symptom that occurs due to an underlying illness or infection of the vestibular system or the brain. The most common symptom of vertigo is an extreme sense of dizziness, which can feel like you are spinning or the room you're in is spinning.
There are also two types of vertigo. Peripheral vertigo may cause dizziness, nausea, and a ringing in your ears, while central vertigo is known to cause dizziness, weakness, and headache. If you experience symptoms such as vision changes or slurred speech alongside your vertigo, it's imperative to reach out for medical attention immediately to prevent serious complications and improve symptoms.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can dehydration cause vertigo?
Dehydration can cause dizziness and lightheadedness, but not the specific kind of dizziness that you experience with vertigo. True vertigo is a symptom of dysfunction in the inner ear or brain.
How is stress related to vertigo?
Stress can’t cause vertigo directly, but stress can impact your vestibular system and potentially cause dysfunction. In fact, a 2016 study found that people with anxiety disorders were more likely to develop vertigo.
How long does vertigo usually last?
A single episode of vertigo can last anywhere from minutes to hours. Vertigo in general can persist for an unknown amount of time as it depends on the underlying health condition causing it. Some causes of vertigo are temporary while others are chronic (long-term). If you have chronic vertigo or experience multiple episodes, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options to reduce symptoms.
What is the fastest way to resolve vertigo?
Many people with vertigo find relief in lying down or changing their position until the episode passes. There are also physical therapy exercises known to relieve symptoms of a vertigo episode quickly. The most commonly known is the Epley maneuver, which is particularly helpful for people with BVVP.
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