Dizziness can describe two different symptoms: lightheadedness and vertigo.
Lightheadedness means you feel like you might faint.
Vertigo means you feel like you are spinning or moving, or you feel like the world is spinning around you. The feeling of spinning:
- Often starts suddenly
- Is usually started by moving the head
- Lasts a few seconds to minutes
What to Expect
Most often, people say the spinning feeling can start when they roll over in bed or tilt their head up to look at something.
Along with lightheadedness and vertigo, you may also have:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hearing loss
- Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- Vision problems, such as a feeling that things are jumping or moving
- Loss of balance, difficulty standing up
Lightheadedness usually gets better by itself, or is easily treated. However, it can be a symptom of other problems. There are many causes. Medicines may cause dizziness, or problems with your ear. Motion sickness can also make you dizzy.
Vertigo can be a symptom of many disorders, as well. Some may be chronic, long-term conditions. Some may come and go. Depending on the cause of your vertigo, you may have other symptoms, like benign positional vertigo or Meniere disease. It is important to have your doctor decide if your vertigo is a sign of a serious problem.
If you have vertigo, you may be able to prevent your symptoms from getting worse by:
- Avoiding sudden movements or position changes
- Keeping still and resting when you have symptoms
- Avoiding bright lights, TV, and reading when you have symptoms
When you feel better, slowly increase your activity. If you lose your balance, you may need help walking to stay safe.
A sudden, dizzy spell during certain activities can be dangerous. Wait 1 week after a severe spell of vertigo is gone before you climb, drive, or operate heavy machinery or consult your health care provider for advice. Chronic lightheadedness or vertigo can cause stress. Make healthy lifestyle choices to help you cope:
- Get enough sleep.
- Eat a well-balanced, healthy diet. Do not overeat.
- Exercise regularly, if possible.
- Learn and practice ways to relax, such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, tai chi, or meditation.
Make your home as safe as you can, just in case you lose your balance. For example:
- Remove loose wires or cords from areas you walk through to get from one room to another.
- Remove loose throw rugs.
- Install night lights.
- Put nonskid mats and grab bars near the bathtub and toilet.
Your health care provider may prescribe medicines for nausea and vomiting. Lightheadedness and vertigo may improve with some medicines. Commonly used drugs include:
- Sedatives such as diazepam (Valium)
Too much water or fluid in your body may make the symptoms worse by increasing fluid pressure in your inner ear. Your provider may suggest a low salt diet or water pills (diuretics).
When to Call the Doctor
Call 911 or your local emergency number, or go to an emergency room if you are dizzy and have:
- A head injury
- Fever over 101°F (38.3°C)
- Headache or a very stiff neck
- Trouble keeping fluids down; vomiting that does not stop
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart beat
- Shortness of breath
- Cannot move an arm or leg
- Change in vision or speech
- Fainting and losing alertness
Call your provider if you have:
- New symptoms, or symptoms that are getting worse
- Dizziness after taking medicine
- Hearing loss
Meniere disease - aftercare; Benign positional vertigo - aftercare
Chang AK. Dizziness and vertigo. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 16.
Crane BT, Minor LB. Peripheral vestibular disorders. In: Flint PW, Haughey BH, Lund V, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head & Neck Surgery. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 165.
Review Date 8/12/2019
Updated by: Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.