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Dizziness

Dizziness is a term people use to describe a variety of sensations. Symptoms such as vertigo, disequilibrium, lightheadedness, and spatial disorientation can all be described as dizziness. However, each symptom and their description offer unique insight into the problem as well as the possible cause.

Before treating your dizziness, it is important to determine the cause of your dizziness. It is often best to contact your family physician and describe your symptoms to him or her. Your description may include how long the symptoms last, as well as movements, positions, situations, or times that seem to cause the symptoms to start, or to make them worse. Pay attention to new or associated symptoms that occur around the same time as the dizziness such as headache, ringing in the ear(s), changes in hearing, pressure in the ears, or increased sensitivity to light or sound.

Rarely, dizziness is a medical emergency. If you experience slurred speech, confusion, difficulty swallowing, or the inability to walk, dial 911 or see a physician immediately.

The majority of dizziness complaints are the result of inner ear (vestibular) disorders. Typical complaints of vestibular disorders include vertigo, nausea, unsteadiness, and visual blurring with head movement. Vascular (blood flow) disorders such as blood pressure changes are another common cause of dizziness. Typical symptoms of vascular disorders causing dizziness include feeling faint or lightheaded and transient loss of balance, often made better by lying down and sometimes made worse by standing quickly.

Some causes of dizziness resolve on their own, and others can be easily treated. For example, the most common cause of dizziness is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). BPPV can often be effectively treated in one office visit. There are many sensitive tests and effective treatments for most causes of dizziness. Your family physician can help you decide if you need additional evaluation with a vestibular specialist such as an ear, nose, and throat physician or an audiologist.
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