Vertigo

What is vertigo?

Vertigo is a symptom, rather than a condition itself. It’s the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning. This feeling may be barely noticeable, or it may be so severe that you find it difficult to keep your balance and do everyday tasks.

Attacks of vertigo can develop suddenly and last for a few seconds, or they may last much longer. If you have severe vertigo, your symptoms may be constant and last for several days, making normal life very difficult.

Other symptoms associated with vertigo may include:

  • loss of balance – which can make it difficult to stand or walk
  • feeling sick or being sick
  • dizziness

What causes vertigo?

Vertigo is commonly caused by a problem with the way balance works in the inner ear, although it can also be caused by problems in certain parts of the brain. Causes of vertigo may include:

  • benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – where certain head movements trigger vertigo
  • migraines – severe headaches
  • labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection
  • vestibular neuronitis – inflammation of the vestibular nerve, which runs into the inner ear and sends messages to the brain that help to control balance

Depending on the condition causing vertigo, you may experience additional symptoms, such as a high temperature, ringing in your ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss.

How is vertigo treated?

Some cases of vertigo improve over time, without treatment. However, some people have repeated episodes for many months, or even years, such as those with Ménière’s disease.

There are specific treatments for some causes of vertigo. A series of simple head movements (known as the Epley manoeuvre) is used to treat BPPV.

Medicines, such as prochlorperazine and some antihistamines, can help in the early stages or most cases of vertigo.

Many people with vertigo also benefit from vestibular rehabilitation training (VRT), which is a series of exercises for people with dizziness and balance problems.