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Vertigo (dizziness)

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 4 minutes read
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Vertigo the sensation that you are in motion, even when you are standing still, or that everything around you is moving. It feels similar to being on a boat, and can result in the same feeling of loss of balance, nausea and vomiting. The attack typically lasts from a few seconds to minutes, but it can last days. Effects range from minimal to severe enough to affect your daily life, but it's more than just dizziness.

Vertigo has nothing to do with a fear of heights. This is a popular misconception that started from the Alfred Hitchcock movie of the same name. Acrophobia means fear of heights, but it may cause a spinning sensation when looking down from a high place that is similar to some aspects of vertigo.

What are the causes of vertigo?

Vertigo can be caused by many conditions, the most common of which are:

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): BPPV is a common cause of vertigo and is often triggered by specific head movements. Small calcium particles in the inner ear can become dislodged and cause brief episodes of vertigo.
  • Meniere's Disease: This inner ear disorder involves a buildup of fluid in the inner ear, leading to episodes of vertigo, hearing loss, and ringing in the ears (tinnitus).
  • Vestibular Neuritis: Inflammation of the vestibular nerve, often viral in origin, can lead to sudden, severe vertigo.
  • Labyrinthitis: This condition involves inflammation of both the vestibular nerve and the cochlear nerve (responsible for hearing). It can cause vertigo along with hearing loss and ringing in the ears.
  • Migraines: Some individuals experience vertigo as a symptom of migraines, known as vestibular migraines. These migraines can cause intense headaches along with vertigo and other neurological symptoms.
  • Trauma: Trauma to the head, such as a concussion or injury to the inner ear structures, can lead to vertigo.
  • Motion Sickness: Sensitivity to motion, such as during car rides, boat trips, or flights, can lead to vertigo and nausea.
  • Infections: Infections affecting the inner ear, such as viral or bacterial infections, can result in vertigo. These can include conditions like herpes simplex virus or bacterial labyrinthitis.

How can I manage it myself?

If severe, try to avoid movements that might bring on the dizziness, like moving your head in certain directions. Avoid causing yourself any injury from falls by walking in good lighting, taking things slow and easy when getting out of bed or a chair.

Do not drive. Monitor your blood pressure as well as other lifestyle factors like your diet and hydration status. Eating foods rich in iron may help women who have heavy menstrual bleeding.

Avoid causing yourself any injuries from falls by walking in good lighting and taking things slow and easy, hang on to a rail or solid furniture if necessary. Do not drive and be aware of the signs of dizziness. Sitting down immediately will help alleviate the sensation.

When should I see my doctor?

Your doctor will take a detailed history of your symptoms. Depending on your history they will examine various aspects of your body from your heart, to your ears or your nervous system. They will also take your blood pressure. There are many causes of vertigo, so the treatment will very much depend on what has been found.

They may recommend you do some exercises or they may prescribe you some anti-histamine medication such as prochlorperazine, which has anti-dizziness properties. If this does not improve symptoms, they may refer you for rehabilitation training or to a specialist for further investigation.

Can I drive with vertigo?

It's crucial to note that the DVLA's guidance is subject to change, and individual cases may vary. If you are uncertain about your ability to drive with vertigo, it is advisable to:

  • Consult with your healthcare professional for an assessment of your condition.
  • Follow any guidance or recommendations provided by your healthcare professional regarding driving.
  • Notify the DVLA if required based on your specific medical condition and their guidelines.

Failure to notify the DVLA about a medical condition that may affect your ability to drive can result in legal consequences. It is essential to prioritise safety and adhere to the guidelines set by both healthcare professionals and relevant authorities.

For the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding driving with vertigo in the UK, it is recommended to directly consult with the DVLA or if there is anything we can help with, please let us know.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
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