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Vertigo Is Dizziness Characterized By Spinning

Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,

I've been dizzy off and on for the past several days, with a spinning sensation. Sometimes it feels like the ground tilts while I'm walking. This morning when I woke up and looked at the alarm clock it was spinning. When I went to get up, I rolled out of bed and fell on the floor. Then I felt OK and went to work. I felt some little twinges during the day. It's scaring me. I would see a doctor, but I don't have any money.



Dear Dizzy,

Vertigo is a type of dizziness that's characterized by the sensation of spinning. It's sometimes referred to as a hallucination of motion. Imagine what it would feel like to be placed suddenly on a roller coaster that won't stop, and you begin to understand the alarming symptom of vertigo.

A fairly common cause of vertigo is labyrinthitis (explanation below). This type of vertigo may occur after a flu-like illness, severe ear infection, or may have no clear cause. It's usually self-limited, meaning it goes away all by itself. But it may intermittently reappear over weeks to months. Bouts of vertigo are commonly treated with meclizine (Antivert).

Vertigo can also result from other vestibular (balance center) disorders. Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is thought to be caused by tiny loose particles floating freely in the fluid (endolymph) of the vestibular system. Meniere's disease is a chronic condition that causes vertigo associated with ringing or roaring and progressive hearing loss in the affected ear(s). Other causes of vertigo include vestibular neuronitis (inflammation of the vestibular nerves), and post traumatic vertigo, which may occur after an injury to the head involving the inner ear structures. Sometimes vertigo may be a symptom of a more serious underlying illness such as a stroke or tumor.

So, anyone with the symptom of vertigo should be seen immediately by a doctor in order to determine the cause. If you can't get in by appointment, then obtain a ride to your local emergency room. They're well equipped to do the required initial evaluation, and provide relief from the unpleasant symptoms, regardless of one's ability to pay. Don't drive or operate machinery until cleared by your physician.


People sometimes refer to labyrinthitis as an inner ear infection, but it usually isn't due to an actual ear infection. In the most general terms, it is a condition that causes irritation of tiny structures such as microscopic hair cells which project into fluid-filled canals (labyrinths) within the vestibular system located deep in the inner ear. Normal balance is, to a degree, controlled by movement of fluid and particles in the labyrinths, in response to changes of body position. This causes the hair cells to send electrical impulses to the brain helping to define the body's orientation. In labyrinthitis the hair cells and other structures in the labyrinths have become irritated or inflamed. They discharge randomly, sending chaotic messages to the brain, tricking the brain into thinking you or your surroundings are moving or spinning.