February 10, 2022

Vertigo Explained: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Middle aged woman sitting on the edge of a bed, holding her head in her hand with her eyes closed

Vertigo is the sensation of dizziness or that you or the world around you is spinning. People who experience vertigo may also describe feeling as though they’re tilting, swaying, or being pulled in a particular direction. Vertigo symptoms range from mild to severe based on the cause.    

2 Types of Vertigo

There are two types of vertigo. Peripheral vertigo is the more common of the two. It’s caused by problems with the inner ear or vestibular nerve, which connects the brain and the inner ear. Central vertigo is caused by a problem in the brain, often in the area called the cerebellum.

Peripheral vertigo typically produces symptoms like:

Central vertigo has symptoms that can include:

Some of these symptoms are similar to those of a stroke. Unless you have had episodes of central vertigo before and are sure that’s what you’re experiencing, you should get medical attention right away. 

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What Causes Vertigo?

Peripheral vertigo can have several causes, including:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). This is the most common peripheral vertigo. It occurs when particles in the inner ear become dislodged by certain head movements and stimulate small hairs in the ear canal. The resulting signals confuse the brain and create the sensation of spinning or dizziness.
  • Meniere’s disease. This condition is believed to be caused by a buildup of fluid that changes the pressure in the ear. It can cause sudden, severe vertigo that lasts up to 24 hours.
  • Labyrinthitis. This condition is often caused by a virus, like the common cold or flu. It may also be the result of a bacterial ear infection. It frequently occurs with other symptoms like earache and fever.
  • Vestibular neuronitis. Also called vestibular neuritis, this condition is caused by an infection of the vestibular nerve, which is crucial to balance. It comes on suddenly and, like labyrinthitis, it typically occurs with or after a cold or flu.
  • Pregnancy. Hormone fluctuations, changes in metabolism, and other aspects of being pregnant can increase the risk of vertigo.

Central vertigo can be caused by:

How Is Vertigo Treated?

Vertigo can be treated using therapies, medications, or surgery. 

One therapy is called vestibular rehabilitation. It strengthens the vestibular system and helps correct the signals sent to the brain regarding movements relative to gravity. Canalith repositioning maneuvers can also be used. They’re specific head movements that reposition stray particles in the ear canal so that the body can absorb them. 

Your doctor or therapist may also advise you to avoid rapid head movements, bright lights, and bending over or looking up, when possible, to reduce the risk of vertigo.

Medications can be used to reduce nausea and related symptoms. Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed to fight bacterial infections, and steroids can be used to reduce swelling in the ear. For vertigo caused by Meniere’s disease, doctors may prescribe diuretics to reduce fluid buildup in the ear.

In rare cases, surgery may be needed to address vertigo. 

Get Help with Vertigo from Baptist Health

Occasional mild vertigo typically is nothing to be concerned about. But if you have vertigo symptoms that come and go for more than a week, you should talk with your doctor. You can find a Baptist Health doctor near you in our online provider directory

If you experience severe symptoms, you should seek emergency care. This includes slurred speech, double vision, loss of vision, fever, limb weakness, trouble walking, hearing loss, or ongoing inability to keep food down. 

Next Steps and Useful Resources

Find a Provider
Learn About Meniere’s Disease
Signs, Symptoms & Risk Factors of Stroke in Young Women
What Is Bell’s Palsy?

Learn More.