What Vertigo Is
If you ever get a sense of dizziness or feel like you might lose your balance, you could be experiencing vertigo. But vertigo isn’t your usual dizziness — it comes with the sensation that the world is spinning or moving uncontrollably around you. It can make you feel like you’re on a fast-moving merry-go-round and you can’t get off.
Many people experience vertigo. In fact, it ranks among the most common complaints in health care. Vertigo affects both men and women of all ages — as much as 15% to 20% of adults every year. It becomes even more common as we age, and women get vertigo two to three times more frequently than men do. More than 90 million people in the U.S. complain of dizziness. (1, 2, 3)
Sometimes, vertigo comes and goes in a matter of seconds or minutes and isn’t very bothersome. Unfortunately, however, vertigo can also last hours or even days, and some people have recurring episodes over the span of months or years. For many, vertigo can be very troublesome and debilitating. (1, 2)
In a survey of people experiencing vertigo, almost 80% reported that their symptoms were bad enough to interfere with their everyday activities, such as their jobs. They also considered their vertigo serious enough to make them want to seek the assistance of a healthcare practitioner. (2)
- Aural fullness (the feeling that your ear is plugged or filled with water)
- Balance issues
- Buzzing or ringing in your ears (also known as tinnitus)
- Hearing loss
- Involuntary eye movements
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to noise
- Visual auras (temporary hallucinations)
Types of Vertigo
There are two main types of vertigo: peripheral and central. Peripheral vertigo is the more common of the two types. It is caused by issues in the inner ear, or specifically the vestibular nerve. This is the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain and helps control your balance. Problems in the inner ear can affect your balance. This leads to feelings of vertigo. (1, 2, 3, 4)
The cerebellum is the section of your brain at the back and bottom of your skull. Not only does it deal with balance and coordination, but it also happens to be one of the most common places that people get hit in the head. All those bumps and bruises, even ones that aren’t especially serious, can lead to vertigo. (1, 4, 5)
Directly above the cerebellum is the occipital lobe. This is where your visual centers are located. Your eyes send a message to the occipital lobe in your brain to interpret what you’re seeing. But if there’s a problem there, your brain may not receive the message properly and may mix up the signals. (6, 7)
This can cause confusion between what your eyes are seeing and your brain’s perception of where you are in space. When those things don’t match up, it can lead to that dizzy, spinning sensation of vertigo. You might also feel like you’re going to trip over your own two feet and lose your balance.
It’s the same sort of thing that causes someone to stumble around when they get a little tipsy after having too much to drink. This is because alcohol affects both the cerebellum and occipital lobe. (8, 9)
Causes of Vertigo
Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
Although BPPV would appear to be another type of vertigo, it’s actually a cause — the most frequent cause of vertigo, in fact. It occurs when calcium deposits or debris, sometimes called canalith crystals, form in the inner ear. BPPV usually causes a series of short but intense episodes of vertigo. (2)
Certain head movements can aggravate BPPV, including bending over or standing up, getting hit in the head, a quick change in head position, or rolling over in bed. BPPV often occurs simultaneously with feelings of nausea or nystagmus, or uncontrollable eye movements. (1)
Your blood sugar has a major impact on your brain. This is because your brain needs glucose to function. So if your blood sugar levels go a little haywire, that can cause central vertigo. Of course, this can be a problem for those with diabetes. (5, 10, 11)
But it is also very common among those who have sporadic eating habits or who skip breakfast. In those cases, your blood sugar gets very low. Then, if you eat something small or high in glucose (such as carbohydrates), your blood sugar levels will spike and then drop again. This inconsistent supply of glucose to the brain can result in vertigo. It is a bigger concern for those who already have other brain-related issues, such as a prior head injury. (5)
Because central vertigo is essentially a brain disorder, any disturbance to the brain can cause it. This includes injuries, strokes, and tumors, as well as conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Multiple sclerosis can cause plaques to form within the inner ears. (2, 4)
Even some emotional issues, such as anxiety, depression, and stress, may worsen vertigo symptoms due to their biochemical and neurological effects on the brain. (2)
Compromised vagus nerve
Your vagus nerve connects your brain to your gut, heart, lungs, and more. If you have poor gut health or other health issues, such as a cardiovascular problem, your vagus nerve can be affected. It may pick up bacteria or other toxins from your body and become infected. (12, 13)
When your vagus nerve is compromised, the flow of blood and oxygen in and out of the head and lungs can be affected. This can cause not only vertigo, but similar symptoms such as fainting, hyperventilation, increased heartbeat, migraines, and vomiting. It may feel like you have anxiety or are having a panic attack. One of the main causes of vertigo-related vomiting is an unhealthy vagus nerve. (13, 14, 15)
Unless you go to a biological dentist, dentistry can bring a lot of toxins into our bodies. Bacteria can develop from a root canal or other infection in the mouth. Dental compounds such as implants, resins, or silver fillings can break down in the mouth and begin to leach toxins, including chemicals, mercury, and nickel. (16, 17, 18, 19)
The mouth is mere inches from both the brain and ear canal, so it’s not surprising that these dangerous invaders can quickly find their way to the brain or the inner ear and cause vertigo. (6)
In clinical research, one patient had a dental infection that caused bacteria to leak into the sinuses. This led to migraines, thyroid problems, and vertigo. (6)
Heavy metals and other toxins
There are many toxins out there, from biotoxins to mold to heavy metals. These toxins come from a range of sources — from our environment to our food — and are hard to avoid. They cause endless health concerns. For example, the majority of people with multiple sclerosis show signs of mold in the blood vessels that connect to their brain. (6, 11, 20, 21, 22)
When toxins get into the bloodstream and lymphatic system, they can lead to blockages that keep your brain from draining as it should. The same can happen when heavy metals cause muscular degeneration that leads to lymphatic blockages. If the lymphatic system and the brain don’t drain, migraines and vertigo result. It can also cause inner ear obstructions that lead to peripheral vertigo. (6, 11, 12, 23)
Infections, parasites, and viruses
Pathogens such as infection-causing bacteria, parasites, and viruses often cause vertigo. These creatures can get into the inner ear canals or the brain. They may get trapped in the sinuses and sometimes release neurotoxins or cause infections that lead to inflammation. All of these issues may lead to vertigo.
Two of the most common vertigo-causing infections are labyrinthitis and vestibular neuronitis.
Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear — specifically, in the labyrinth, which is located deep within your ear. It can be caused by either a virus or, rarely, bacteria. Although it usually goes away on its own, bad cases can sometimes result in hearing loss and balance problems and should be treated. (1, 3, 24)
Vestibular neuronitis (aka neuritis) occurs when the vestibular nerve becomes inflamed. It is most commonly caused by a virus, and its symptoms may be severe. Being tired, drinking alcohol, and having another illness can worsen vestibular neuronitis. (1, 3)
Dizziness and vertigo can be side effects of some medications, including antibiotic, anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral drugs. Some drugs for cardiovascular or gut issues may also cause vertigo, as can codeine, lithium, melatonin, and others. Certain medications cause vertigo along with related symptoms, such as hearing loss or ringing in the ears. (2, 3, 25, 26, 27)
Meniere’s is a rare condition of the inner ear with an ambiguous cause. It brings about sudden and severe episodes of vertigo that can last for extended periods of time, even days or longer. These are often extreme enough to result in nausea or vomiting. (2, 7)
Migraines and vertigo are so interconnected that it’s sometimes difficult to differentiate between the two. Migraines can cause vertigo, but vertigo also very frequently leads to headaches or migraines.
Many symptoms of both conditions overlap, such as nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and vomiting. They both can occur after a sudden head movement or a head injury, though there are many other factors. As much as 10% of the population gets migraines. (1, 8)
The parallel relationship of migraines and vertigo is likely due to the fact that both have the same root causes, specifically a problem in the brain or inner ear. This can include issues with the blood vessels in the brain, the cranial nerves, and/or the vestibular system. The term “vestibular migraines” is now used to describe the connection between inner ear (vestibular) issues and migraines and their shared symptoms. (8, 9, 28)
Physical injuries to the body
Physical injuries to the head or the rest of the body are frequently behind someone’s vertigo. Incidents like car accidents, head injuries, injuries to the rib cage, neck surgery, and whiplash can all cause vertigo. (1, 10, 29, 30)
These types of injuries either affect the brain or vestibular system directly or affect the body’s alignment and structure enough to stop the brain from draining properly. It could also be the result of scar tissue that develops from an injury. (10, 31)
Many people dismiss minor injuries as the reason for their vertigo. But remember that a head injury doesn’t have to mean that you cracked your skull open. It might just be you banged your head hard against the cupboard door or fell and knocked your head against something. And even minor car accidents can cause issues that impair drainage.
How Long Does Vertigo Last?
In many cases, vertigo may go away on its own. Or treatment may be as simple as avoiding things that aggravate or trigger your symptoms. For example, try avoiding bending over or sitting up too quickly. Move your head slowly when performing your everyday activities, and avoid extending your neck too far. Some other basic and simple ways to lessen your vertigo include:
- Avoiding looking up, including reaching up to a high shelf
- Getting up slowly from a reclined or seated position
- Intentionally triggering your vertigo so that your brain adjusts to the motion and gets used to it, and your symptoms are lessened
- Lying down in a quiet, darkened room until your vertigo subsides
How Do You Stop Vertigo?
If your vertigo is more serious, or if you simply don’t want to live with the symptoms while waiting for your condition to improve, you may choose to seek treatment. There are many different treatments for vertigo. Which one you choose depends on the cause of your vertigo, how bad your symptoms are, what sorts of treatments you’re comfortable with, and your lifestyle choices. Here’s a list of some of the ways to treat vertigo.
Chiropractic or massage
Getting a massage or chiropractic treatment can help lessen the effects of vertigo. These treatments can adjust your alignment and get rid of blockages that may be causing your ears or brain not to drain as they should. Lymphatic massage can help your lymphatic system drain, including your brain’s own lymphatic system, thus eliminating many of the causes of vertigo. (12, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36)
Diet and nutrition can sometimes affect the symptoms of vertigo. Certain foods and beverages can trigger vertigo, especially in those who have Meniere’s disease, and should be avoided. Try to reduce your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, and salt. On the other hand, incorporating certain nutrient-containing supplements into your diet may help. (2)
Some practitioners also suggest that essential oils, including lavender, may help alleviate the dizziness and nausea associated with vertigo. (37)
Detox and drainage
Supporting proper drainage is crucial to be sure that your brain and inner ear stay clear and vertigo-free. Detoxing can also help eliminate many of the causes of vertigo, such as parasites and toxins. Like drainage, this helps the brain and ears to remain clear and functioning properly. Keep in mind that vertigo may worsen at first when you detox, but this will improve with time. (1, 12)
Essential oils have been used throughout time to address various ailments. There is growing evidence that essential oils also help with brain, cognitive, and neurological concerns. Some practitioners suggest that essential oils, including lavender, may help alleviate the dizziness and nausea associated with vertigo. (38)
Many exercises can help alleviate or lessen the symptoms of vertigo. Both the Epley maneuver as well as Brandt-Daroff exercises use certain head movements to dislodge the crystals in the ear canal that are associated with BPPV. (2)
Vestibular rehabilitation training (VRT) involves exercises specifically designed for people who have issues with dizziness and balance. VRT works by retraining your brain to better interpret the unusual messages that your inner ear sends when your vertigo is caused by an inner ear problem. Your brain learns to rely on your eyes and legs for balance, rather than your ear canal. VRT also works to improve eye focus and movements for better vision and balance. (2, 9)
Other possibilities include exercises to improve balance (such as yoga), exercises to strengthen the cerebellum, and reflexology.
Vagus nerve stimulation
Stimulating your vagus nerve can help reduce dizziness and other symptoms of vertigo. You can stimulate your vagus nerve through such activities as: (13, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50)
- Coffee enemas
- Cold therapy
- Deep breathing
- Intermittent fasting
- Physical activity
Stopping the Spin
Vertigo may feel like you’re on a carnival ride, but it’s far less fun. It causes dizziness, like the room is spinning around you, and may come with headaches, nausea, and vomiting. It can be caused by a number of different factors, but the ultimate source of the problem is a brain or inner ear issue that affects your balance and/or vision. Vertigo is usually temporary. With proper treatment, you can reduce or eliminate your symptoms, stop the spinning, and get yourself back on stable ground.