Vertigo

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.

These include:

  • 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:

  • migraine
  • 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.

Important

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.

Treating vertigo

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.

Important

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.

Do

  • 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

Don't

  • 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

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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