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Vertigo Symptoms: 13 Signs You May Have Vertigo

By Katherine George

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Gerald Morris

Suffering from vertigo is not a nice feeling at all. Some people describe or mistake it for just feeling dizzy and light-headed, but it’s much more than that. It will cause people to feel like the room is spinning, or that they are moving when they’re really not. It might also affect their balance and some of their senses. What a nightmare! There are many other symptoms to this condition, but they often depend on what is causing the vertigo.

Vertigo in itself can be a symptom, explains Everyday Health. There are a few different conditions that can cause it, but it’s often the result of issues with the inner ear. The most common is benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), which develops as tiny calcium particles build up in the ear canals. WebMD notes it can also be caused by Meniere’s disease, which results when there is fluid pressure in the ear. And lastly, the other common cause is vestibular neuritis, a viral infection of the inner ear nerves. All of these will create unbalance in the body, resulting in a wonky feeling that leaves your world spinning or tilted and causes dizzy spells that come and go for about 20-seconds as the head changes positions.

Now that we know some of the common causes, let’s take a look at some of the most common symptoms of vertigo…

1. Distorted Balance

The primary symptom of vertigo is a feeling like the room is spinning, says WebMD. Patients also describe it as feeling like they are tilted or that they are swaying, which causes an unbalanced sensation that they are being pulled in one direction.

This distorted balance might also make it difficult for them to walk. This is known as ataxic gait, says UCSF Health. It can make it difficult for them to walk in a straight line or turn corners. They will often be quite clumsy and struggle with coordination. They might need to constantly be looking down in order to know where the ground is and need to hold onto something when standing, explains Veda.

2. Migraine Headaches

Not surprisingly, because people with vertigo feel off balance and like the room is spinning, it can also cause them to experience severe migraine headaches. This might also be due to the original cause of vertigo in the first place which is the pressure build up of fluid or calcium, and a sensation of being off balance.

3. Nausea

A severe feeling of nausea will often set in when the world is thrown off balance. This is due to the unbalanced feeling of spinning or falling. In severe cases, vertigo can cause vomiting.

4. Ringing in the Ears

WebMD notes that people with vertigo might suffer from tinnitus which causes a loud ringing or pinging in the ears. The tinnitus can also cause roaring, buzzing, whooshing, or other noises in the ear. However, over time, it may become more continual and intense as a loud and cumbersome buzzing.

5. Fatigue

Most people find the unbalanced feeling that vertigo causes to be physically exhausting. Not knowing when episodes will come on or how long they will last can cause severe physical and emotional stress and fatigue.

6. Sweating

The sudden onset of a vertigo attack can cause severe panic and profuse sweating—particularly on the forehead, head, neck, and chest. Clammy chills due to excessive perspiration may creep along the entire body if you feel an episode coming on.

7. Hearing Loss

Vertigo, especially if it’s traced to Meniere’s disease, can cause progressive, low-frequency hearing loss that affects one ear. Your hearing may become “tinny” and loud noises may be painful. Hearing typically becomes progressively worse as time passes, and patients may become completely deaf in the affected ear.

8. Twitching Eyes

The Mayo Clinic lists abnormal rhythmic eye movements (nystagmus) or twitching eye muscles as another common symptom of vertigo. These abnormal eye movements tend to occur with BPPV and are due to the fatigue and stress that causes the muscle in the eyelids to spasm for periods that can last a few hours to a few days. Getting some rest should help alleviate the eye twitching.

9. Ear Pressure

The feeling of pressure inside the ear (or aural fullness) may be caused as the barometric pressure shifts and vertigo sets in. This can occur when the head shifts planes or pressure changes, for instance, when descending in an airplane.

10. Panic Attacks

Many individuals affected by vertigo complain of lengthy panic attacks that can occur sporadically and last up to 30-minutes, virtually draining them of energy.

11. Double Vision

According to Everyday Health, there are two main types of vertigo. There is peripheral vertigo, caused by problems in the inner ear, which is what we’ve mostly been talking about so far. However, vertigo can also be caused by brain injuries, medications, etc. In this case it’s referred to as central vertigo, which is due to a glitch in the brain. Central vertigo can cause other unusual symptoms like double vision or difficulty moving the eyes.

WebMD goes into further explanation by writing, “Your eyes may also move without your control. This movement may go away when you try to focus your vision on a fixed point. It also tends to only happen during the first few days of vertigo symptoms and then disappears.”

In addition to causing double vision, people suffering from vertigo might also have blurred vision, says UCSF Health, which is commonly referred to as diplopia.

12. Difficulty Swallowing and Speaking

The source also notes that central vertigo can cause a person to have difficulty swallowing and speaking in the form of slurred speech. This is known as dysarthria, says UCSF Health.

WebMD also notes that this symptom is commonly referred to as central vertigo. The source writes, “Other symptoms like headaches, weakness, or trouble swallowing are common with central vertigo.”

13. Weakness and Numbness

Lastly, another symptom of central vertigo is weakness and numbness. Everyday Health goes into more detail by listing facial paralysis and weak limbs.

14. How Long Does It Last?

The symptoms of vertigo are experienced differently for every person, especially depending on what is causing it. The Mayo Clinic also explains that these symptoms can come and go, but for the most part they will last less than 1-minute at a time. “Episodes of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo can disappear for some time and then recur,” writes the source.

There are also certain activities that can cause the symptoms to resurface, but again, this varies from person to person. Most of the time they are brought about by a change in the position of their head. “Some people also feel out of balance when standing or walking.”

MD, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine

Gerald Morris, MD is a family medicine/internal medicine physician with over 20 years expertise in the medical arena. Dr. Morris has spent time as a clinician, clinical research coordinator/manager, medical writer, and instructor. He is a proponent of patient education as a tool in the diagnosis and treatment of acute and chronic medical conditions.

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