Are Dizziness and Vertigo Symptoms of COVID-19?

These neurological conditions are not on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID-19 symptoms list, but patients have been experiencing them.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are numerous and wide-ranging, varying from patient to patient in type and severity.

Along with the respiratory symptoms we commonly associate with the virus, COVID-19 patients have reported having gastrointestinal and neurological issues too. These include headaches, loss of taste and smell, and less frequently, dizziness and vertigo.

Scientists are studying potential links between dizziness and vertigo and COVID-19.

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How Are Dizziness and Vertigo Different?

Dizziness is the feeling of being faint, woozy, or unsteady. When dizziness makes you feel that your surroundings are spinning, the sensation is called vertigo. Both are considered balance problems, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Vertigo comes in two types:

Peripheral vertigo is the result of an inner ear problem, which plays a role in controlling balance.

Central vertigo occurs when there is a problem in the brain's cerebellum, which controls voluntary movements including balance, walking, speech, and posture. Central vertigo could be triggered by a stroke, migraine, head injuries, diabetes, and other causes.

Evidence of Dizziness and Vertigo in People With COVID-19

In a study of 1,512 patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, published in 2022 in Internal and Emergency Medicine, 16.6% of participants reported new-onset dizziness. According to the study, vertigo and dizziness "should not be underestimated because it might underlie serious vestibular disorders, and disequilibrium in elderly individuals should be monitored due to the possible risk of falls."

Also, a review of 14 studies and case reports published in September 2020 in Ear, Nose & Throat Journal found dizziness to be "one of the main clinical manifestations of COVID-19" and advised, "that attending physicians remain vigilant, especially when managing nonspecific symptoms such as dizziness, as it can be easily overlooked."

Dizziness is also a known symptom for people who are experiencing long-haul COVID-19, which is characterized by serious side effects that persist weeks or months after the initial coronavirus infection.

How Might Dizziness and Vertigo Be Associated With COVID-19?

Various factors point to a possible relationship between these neurological conditions and COVID-19. Some studies reported an association between the virus and vestibular neuritis, with patients experiencing acute bouts of vertigo after recovering from COVID-19, according to a 2021 study published in the Indian Journal of Otolaryngol Head and Neck Surgery. Vestibular neuritis occurs when the vestibulocochlear nerve in the inner ear is inflamed, disrupting messages to the brain. It is most commonly caused by viral infections—which are often associated with dizziness.

Also, SARS-CoV-2, the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19, affects the brain's cranial nerves. "This can lead to loss of smell, taste, and a complaint of dizziness or vertigo if the eighth cranial nerve, or the direct vestibular nerve, is involved," said Shae Datta, MD, the director of concussion and cognitive neurology at NYU Langone Hospital on Long Island.

Hypoxia, low blood oxygen often seen with COVID-19, is another cause of dizziness, said Dr. Datta. When your body isn't getting enough oxygen to maintain proper functioning, you can feel dizzy because the brain needs oxygen-rich blood to maintain your sense of balance, she said.

What to Do If You Have Dizziness or Vertigo

Vertigo and dizziness are considered to be pretty complex symptoms in medicine, said Natasha Bhuyan, MD, clinical assistant professor of family, community, and preventive medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. So treatment depends on the nature of the symptoms you're experiencing.

"Some vertigo can be resolved without treatment at all," said Robert Quigley, MD, an immunologist, and senior vice president and global medical director of travel health company International SOS. "However, if vertigo is caused by an underlying problem, it might be treated through antibiotics, over-the-counter medicine, or even surgery, per the direction of your healthcare provider."

If your dizziness or vertigo can't be explained by typical causes, consider checking in with your doctor and taking a COVID-19 test, just to play it safe.

The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.

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