Vertigo feels like you or everything around you is spinning. It's more than feeling dizzy, it affects your balance.
A vertigo attack can last from a few seconds to hours. If you have severe vertigo, it can last for many days or months.
Vertigo gets better in most cases without treatment. talk to your GP if it keeps coming back or it's affecting your daily life.
Causes of vertigo
The most common causes of vertigo are inner ear problems that affect your balance.
- benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – where specific head movements cause vertigo
- labyrinthitis – an inner ear infection caused by a cold or flu virus
- vestibular neuronitis – inflammation of the vestibular nerve (the nerve in the inner ear that sends messages to the brain)
- Ménière's disease – a rare inner ear condition that can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ear) or loss of hearing
Other causes of vertigo include:
- some types of medicine – check the leaflet to see if it's listed as a side effect
Sometimes the cause is unknown.
Non-urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment if you have vertigo that will not go away or keeps coming back and you:
- have a severe headache
- are being sick or feel very sick
- have a very high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above or feel hot and shivery
What happens at your appointment
Your GP will ask about your symptoms to try to find out what type of vertigo you have.
They may do a test to check your balance. They'll ask you to move quickly from a sitting position to a lying position. This could bring on symptoms.
They may refer you to a specialist for more tests.
Go to your nearest ED if you have vertigo and:
- double vision or loss of vision
- hearing loss
- trouble speaking
- leg or arm weakness, numbness or tingling
Always take someone who cannot be woken up to the ED or call 999 or 112 and look for an ambulance.
The treatment for vertigo depends on the cause.
Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if the cause is an infection.
They may also give you special exercises to do for your balance.
Your GP may prescribe antihistamines. They can sometimes help with vertigo symptoms.
If you drive, you must tell the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS) about your vertigo. Visit the NDLS website for more information on driving with a medical condition
Easing the symptoms of vertigo
You can do things to ease vertigo symptoms when they happen and reduce the number of episodes.
lie still in a quiet, dark room to reduce the spinning feeling
move your head carefully and slowly during daily activities
sit down straight away when you feel dizzy
turn on the lights if you get up at night
use a walking stick if you're at risk of falling
sleep with your head slightly raised on 2 or more pillows
get out of bed slowly and sit on the edge of the bed for a while before standing up
try to relax, anxiety can make vertigo worse
do not bend over to pick things up - squat to lower yourself instead
do not stretch your neck, for example, when you reach up to a high shelf
Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE