June 15, 2021
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Christine Greiss, D.O. contributes to topics such as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.
Research shows that dizziness, vertigo and balance problems affect about 15 percent of U.S. adults each year, with higher rates of occurrence in people aged 65 and older. These problems can significantly impact quality of life, leading to increased fall risk and affecting the ability to walk, drive, read, work and engage in other everyday activities.
Causes and treatments for dizziness
Christine Greiss, D.O., director of the Concussion Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute, outlines eight possible causes of dizziness and how they are treated:
- COVID-19 and other upper respiratory conditions.
COVID-19 and other respiratory conditions such as viruses and allergies can cause swelling in the sinuses and ears, leading to dizziness.
“If an ear infection develops or the Eustachian tube that connects the ears with the back of the throat becomes blocked, it can cause feelings of dizziness,” explains Dr. Greiss. “Your health care provider may be able to recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to relieve symptoms.”
Migraines have different ways of presenting, but dizziness is definitely on the list of possible symptoms.
“If your headaches include dizziness, it might be more than a tension headache,” shares Dr. Greiss. “You should talk to your primary care provider about this symptom and visit a neurologist for a migraine evaluation.”
- Inner ear infections or disorders.
Dizziness can be caused by ear infections and diseases that cause structural abnormalities, such as tumors.
Other conditions that can cause dizziness include labyrinthitis, a viral or bacterial infection that causes inflammation in the inner ear, and a disorder called Ménière’s disease.
“Each of these conditions requires different treatment, so it’s important to visit a health care provider if your dizziness is severe, is accompanied by other symptoms, or doesn’t improve,” comments Dr. Greiss.
- Medication side effects.
“When someone is experiencing dizziness, one of the first questions I ask is, ‘Have you changed your medication doses or started any new medications?’” says Dr. Greiss.
Some medications can cause dizziness as a side effect, and often, all that is needed is a dosage adjustment or a change to another drug.
Anxiety is a condition that can cause physical symptoms. However, before anxiety is diagnosed as a cause of dizziness, health care providers must rule out other physical causes.
“We will do a workup based on the patient’s symptoms first before considering anxiety as a potential cause,” says Dr. Greiss. “Then, I will talk to patients about their sleep patterns and their levels of stress or worry. Sometimes, people don’t even realize that they are feeling anxious.”
Often, treating anxiety through psychotherapy or medication resolves the dizziness.
Patients who experience dizziness are often surprised to learn that dehydration can be a cause — and the only necessary treatment is drinking more water.
Dr. Greiss says that patients might notice that they aren’t urinating frequently or that their urine is dark in color. Dry skin is another common symptom of dehydration.
- Head injury/concussion.
Dizziness is a common symptom of a concussion or head injury.
“If a patient experiences a head injury that results in dizziness, it is critical to get evaluated by a health care provider to rule out any serious complications as soon as possible,” remarks Dr. Greiss. “Prompt evaluation also allows us to start treatment right away, so we can help the patient recover and prevent further injury.”
- Autoimmune disorders.
Dizziness can occur as a symptom of certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and more.
“We work collaboratively with other medical specialists, including neurologists, rheumatologists, ENTs, and others to figure out the cause of a patient’s dizziness and how to treat it,” said Dr. Greiss.
How to tell if your dizziness is serious
“If someone is experiencing dizziness along with vision disturbances, weakness on one side of the body, confusion or difficulty speaking, they should dial 9-1-1 right away,” warns Dr. Greiss. “Otherwise, if dizziness has no obvious cause, is persistent, occurs after a head injury or is severe, it’s important to be evaluated by a health care provider.”
Other red-flag symptoms that may accompany dizziness and warrant a visit to your health care provider include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Changes in bowel patterns
- Vision changes
- Problems with touch, taste or smell
- Other concerning physical changes
When to seek help
If you are putting your life on hold because of dizziness, vertigo, or balance problems, now is the time to seek treatment.
“We understand that dizziness is a huge quality-of-life issue, and giving patients that validation is a significant part of the care we provide,” says Dr. Greiss. “We will use a team approach to get to the bottom of the cause and determine the best course of treatment.”
Next Steps & Resources
- To make an appointment with a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- Learn more about Dr. Greiss.
- What is Vision Therapy—and How Does it Help?
- Unsure it’s a Concussion? Here Are 5 Signs You Should Seek Care for Your Child
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.