Vertigo is different to just feeling dizzy or light-headed. Vertigo is the feeling that you or your surroundings are moving, although you are sitting or standing absolutely still. It causes you to feel off-balance, like you are falling or tilting. In severe cases it can cause you to feel nauseous or vomit. Vertigo is a symptom of other conditions rather than a condition itself. An attack of vertigo comes quite suddenly and lasts a few seconds or minutes. If you have severe vertigo it can last much longer, up to several days. You should talk to your doctor if you have severe vertigo or recurrent attacks.
What Vertigo Is NOT
• Loss of balance making it difficult to stand
Vertigo is usually caused by a problem with the middle or inner ear. The ear has lots of tiny organs that send messages to the brain in response to gravity. Those organs inform our brain about our spatial surrounding - what's up, down, when we are moving or when something around us is moving. If there is a disturbance in this system due to an inner ear infection or fluid build up for example, it can interfere with our balance. Usually once the infection has passed, so too does the vertigo.
Specific Medical Causes:
See: Causes of Vertigo
Your doctor will ask you some questions and perform a few tests to differentiate between general dizziness and vertigo. You will be asked to explain your symptoms, how long they last, when they occur and if anything prompts an attack. You will be asked about any medications you are taking, if you've had an ear infection recently and if you have a family history of migraines or Ménière's disease. Your doctor may also perform the Dix-Hallpike's maneuver on you. This involves moving you quickly from a lying to a sitting position and monitoring your reaction.
Many cases of vertigo clear up naturally without treatment, or as a result of treatment prescribed for the cause of the problem (such as antibiotics to clear up an ear infection). If the vertigo is caused by migraines, it can be treated with your migraine medications. Occasionally specific medications are prescribed for attacks of vertigo whose cause is unknown, or for cases caused by Ménière's disease or vestibular neuronitis. The most common drugs prescribed are prochlorperazine and antihistamines. If they are successful in treating your symptoms you will be given a prescription so that you can take them next time you have an attack. In a few cases surgical intervention may be necessary. See vertigo treatment.
Can I Drive?
If you have recently had an attack of vertigo you should avoid driving for 48 hours as there is a chance you may have another episode while driving. Generally though, as long as you don't have a condition which causes 'sudden and disabling attacks of vertigo', you are safe to drive.
Related Articles on Vertigo
For more on feeling dizzy, see the following:
• For more health, see: Womens Health Advice