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Eye and Ear Problems

Dizziness and Vertigo

Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Dizziness is a word that is often used to describe 2 different sensations: lightheadedness and vertigo. It is important to know exactly what you mean when you say, "I feel dizzy," because it can help you and your health professional narrow down the list of possible problems.

Lightheadedness is a feeling that you are about to pass out (faint). Although you may feel unsteady, there is no sensation of movement.

Lightheadedness usually goes away or improves when you lie down. If lightheadedness gets worse, it can lead to a fainting spell with nausea or vomiting.

Lightheadedness usually does not indicate a serious problem. It is common to feel lightheaded occasionally. Lightheadedness is often caused by a momentary drop in blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the head when you get up too quickly from a seated or lying position. This is called orthostatic hypotension . It may be caused by dehydration or medications such as water pills (diuretics).

Lightheadedness is common when you have flu, a cold, or allergies. Vomiting, diarrhea, and fever can cause dehydration and lightheadedness. Other common causes of lightheadedness include side effects of medication, hyperventilation, stress, anxiety, drinking alcohol, or using illegal drugs. A more serious cause of lightheadedness is bleeding. If a person is bleeding internally, lightheadedness and fatigue may be the first noticeable symptoms of blood loss.

An uncommon cause of lightheadedness is an abnormality in your heart rhythm. This can cause recurrent spells of lightheadedness and can lead to a fainting spell (cardiac syncope). Unexplained fainting spells need to be evaluated by a health professional. See Fainting on See Unconsciousness.

Ear Problems


Possible Causes

Earache and fever; pulling at ears by infants and small children, especially with inconsolable crying

Ear Infections, See Ear Infections.

Pain while chewing; headache

TM Disorder, See Temporomandibular (TM) Disorder.

Pain when ear is wiggled or while chewing; itching or burning in ear

Swimmer's Ear, See Swimmer's Ear.

Discharge from ear

Swimmer's Ear, See Swimmer's Ear; eardrum rupture, See eardrum rupture.

Feeling of fullness in ear, with runny or stuffy nose, cough, fever

Colds, See Colds; Ear Infections, See Ear Infections.

Feeling of something moving or "bumping around" in ear

Objects in the Ear, See Objects in the Ear.

Hearing loss; inattentiveness

Hearing Loss, See Hearing Loss; Earwax, See Earwax; serous otitis, See serous otitis.

Ringing or noise in the ears

Tinnitus, See Tinnitus.

Vertigo is a sensation that your body or the world around you is spinning or moving. Vertigo is usually related to inner ear problems. It may occur with nausea and vomiting. It may be impossible to walk when you have severe vertigo.

The most common form of vertigo is triggered by changes in the position of your head, such as when you move your head from side to side or bend your head back to look up. This is called benign positional vertigo .Vertigo also may be caused by labyrinthitis, an inflammation in the part of the inner ear that controls balance. Labyrinthitis is usually caused by a viral infection and sometimes follows a cold or the flu.

Other underlying problems that can contribute to vertigo are Meniere's disease (a balance problem believed to be caused by a build-up of fluid in the inner ear), multiple sclerosis, and, in rare cases, a brain tumor.

Home Treatment

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Lightheadedness is usually not a cause for concern unless it is severe, persistent, or occurs with other symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat or fainting. The greatest danger of lightheadedness is the injuries that might result if you fall.

  • When you feel lightheaded, lie down for 1 or 2 minutes. This will allow more blood to flow to your brain. After lying down, sit up slowly and remain sitting for 1 to 2 minutes before slowly standing up.

  • Viral illnesses, such as colds or the flu, may cause lightheadedness. Resting will help prevent it. Also, drink extra fluids to prevent dehydration, which can cause or increase lightheadedness.

  • Do not drive, operate machinery, or put yourself in any other potentially dangerous situation while you are having vertigo.

  • When you are having vertigo, avoid lying flat on your back. Propping yourself up slightly may relieve the spinning sensation.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or emergency services immediately:

  • If vertigo is accompanied by headache, confusion, loss of speech or sight, weakness in the arms or legs, or numbness in any part of the body.

  • If lightheadedness occurs with chest pain that is squeezing or crushing, and/or occurs with any other symptoms of a heart attack (See Heart Attack).

  • If someone who is feeling dizzy loses consciousness and you are unable to arouse the person.

  • If severe and persistent lightheadedness is accompanied by a sudden change in your normal heart rate.

Call a health professional:

  • If vertigo occurs with other signs of serious illness, such as headache with severe stiff neck, fever, irritability, confusion, or a seizure. (See "Encephalitis and Meningitis" on See Encephalitis and Meningitis.)

  • If lightheadedness or vertigo develops after an injury.

  • If you have vertigo that is severe (may cause vomiting) or that occurs with hearing loss.

  • If you suspect dizziness may be a side effect of a medication.

  • If you experience vertigo that:

    • Has not been diagnosed.

    • Lasts longer than 5 days.

    • Is significantly different than other episodes.

  • If you have repeated spells of lightheadedness over a few days.

  • If you feel lightheaded and your pulse is less than 50 or more than 130 beats per minute. See Taking a Pulse to learn how to take your pulse.


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