Why am I dizzy?

Libby O'Sullivan

spinning child

One of my toddler’s favourite things to do at the moment is to spin around and around until he makes himself dizzy. It always make me a bit uncomfortable, mostly because I’m worried he’ll hurt himself in the aftermath, but also because as an adult, I don’t enjoy the feeling of being dizzy. Poor balance and dizziness is not just something that affects the elderly. It can have a number of different causes, some of which are treatable by physiotherapists.

What is dizziness?

There is quite a variety in how different people describe their feeling of dizziness, but symptoms can include:

  • nausea
  • a sense of your environment spinning (vertigo)
  • poor balance
  • feeling woozy or light-headed
  • feeling faint
  • feeling ‘foggy’

Normally, your sense of balance is regulated by the messages your brain receives from all of your senses:

  • your eyes
  • your proprioceptors (or sensory nerves)
  • your inner ear

When the information coming from these sensory systems is inadequate or dysfunctional, dizziness can result.

Is dizziness the same as vertigo?

This is something I think is commonly misunderstood. Vertigo is not a condition causing dizziness; it is actually a symptom of dizziness. Vertigo is the sense of your environment spinning around you and is a common symptom associated with dizziness.

What causes dizziness?

There a number of conditions that can cause dizziness and associated symptoms. The conditions most often treated by physiotherapists include:

BPPV (Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo)

This condition occurs when normal calcium carbonate crystals in the inner ear escape into the inner ear canals and interfere with fluid flow. It often produces intense periods of dizziness with movements like:

  • rolling in bed
  • putting shoes on
  • washing hair / looking up

Physiotherapists can be very effective at treating this by performing a manoeuvre which repositions the loosened crystals

Inflammation of the inner ear

Sudden intense dizziness/vertigo can result from an acute infection in the inner ear. It’s cause is unknown but it is thought to be a viral infection. Often symptoms last for a couple of days and can involve intense vertigo and nausea/vomiting.

Physiotherapists can help treat this condition by providing vestibular rehab exercises to desensitise your inner ear to movement

Vestibular migraine

This is a type of migraine that may not cause a headache, but often causes feelings of imbalance, pressure in the head, neck pain, ‘foggy’ hearing or tinitus (ringing in the ears) and sometimes hearing loss.  The exact cause is not known.

Physiotherapy may be helpful if your symptoms last between the migrainous episodes. We might also be able to help you identify and modifying aggravating movements and positions.

Other causes of dizziness are wide and varied, but might include:

  • Meniere’s disease
  • Acoustic neuroma
  • Stroke
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Multiple Sclerosis

Who should you see for treatment

I always think that if dizziness is your main concern, you should start with your GP. They can assess you and narrow down the medical causes. Your GP might then send you to a physio for rehab, or you can book your own appointment (because you don’t need a referral to see us!) We will do everything we can to have you feeling balanced and dizzy-free as soon as possible!