13 Reasons You're Dizzy–and What to Do About It
Why am I dizzy?
It might be normal to feel a little dizzy upon finishing a grueling workout or jumping up from your seat too fast, but if you’re getting wobbly throughout the day, it could indicate a more serious issue.
Dizziness can make you feel lightheaded, woozy, and unstable. It can happen when there’s an issue with sensory organs (the eyes and ears in particular), and it can even lead to fainting, nausea, and vomiting, in extreme cases. It’s a symptom of many disorders, making the range of potential causes of dizziness pretty large.
Having an occasional bout of dizziness is fairly common, but if you notice chronic episodes or your dizziness lasts for a substantial amount of time, talk to your doctor.
Here are some of the causes of dizziness to be mindful of.
Inner ear problems
Inner ear problems known as vertigo affect balance and coordination. Vertigo causes a spinning sensation, making it feel much like motion sickness or as if you’re tilted to one side.
“Vertigo, which may develop after an upper respiratory, sinus, or ear infection, can develop suddenly, cause intense spinning, and be associated with nausea and vomiting,” explains Robert Glatter, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health and attending emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital.
What causes dizziness and nausea associated with vertigo? The most common cause of vertigo is an inner-ear problem called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV). “It is often associated with change in head position and is ultimately the result of displaced crystals in the semi-circular canals in the inner ear,” Dr. Glatter says.
Vertigo can also be attributed to Ménière’s disease, which is thought to be related to excess fluid buildup in the ear.
To treat BPPV and other ear issues related to vertigo, first try sitting down to stop the spinning. A doctor can also try a simple repositioning exercise known as the Epley maneuver to help relocate the crystals in your inner ear and alleviate nausea and spinning, Dr. Glatter says.
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Drop in blood pressure
“When you get up too quickly from a sitting or lying position and your blood doesn’t travel as quickly up to your head, you will experience a ‘head rush’ feeling,” says Sherry Ross, MD, ob-gyn and women's health specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Medically, this is known as orthostatic hypotension, where there is drastic drop in blood pressure when you stand up.”
You might also notice you feel faint, confused, or experience blurry vision, Dr. Ross adds–but it’s usually nothing to worry about. However, if it happens a lot, consider talking to a doctor, she says. “It’s always best to follow up with your health care provider if you experience this symptom more frequently with time or it’s associated with fainting.”
Poor blood circulation to your brain can cause symptoms of dizziness, weakness, numbness, and tingling. “If the brain is starved of oxygen and nutrients by a reduction in blood flow, these symptoms can come on rapidly,” says Dr. Hollingsworth.
Underlying heart conditions could be the reason why your brain isn’t getting enough blood. Or, in rare cases, dizziness could be a symptom of a so-called “mini stroke” or transient ischemic attack (TIA), in which blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked. Other symptoms include weakness on one side of the face or body, severe sudden headache, and blurred vision, says Dr. Hollingsworth.
Though symptoms only last a few minutes, they can indicate risk of a future stroke. “See a doctor if you experience an attack of dizziness with any other symptoms of TIA to determine if you are at risk. Blood thinners to prevent clots may be prescribed,” he says.
Certain neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, can cause dizziness.
“Parkinson’s involves shaking of the hands at rest, and resolution of the shaking as soon as any intentioned movement is initiated,” Dr. Hollingsworth says. Dizzy spells can happen in those with Parkinson’s as a result of low blood pressure, either due to the disease itself or medication used to treat it.
MS is characterized by sensations like numbness, tingling, and weakness. Dizziness, or rather an episode of vertigo, can occur in those with MS, making them feel off balance with bouts of lightheadedness and spinning sensations.
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“Specific medications such as antihistamines, sedatives, muscle relaxants, opiates, and antidepressants can cause dizziness,” explains Dr. Glatter. “It could be due to the medication itself or an interaction with another medication you are taking as well.”
“Medications alter the body’s chemistry and leave you susceptible to feeling lightheaded or dizzy,” Dr. Hollingsworth adds.
Talk to the prescribing doctor about the medications you’re taking if you’re experiencing dizziness. He or she may be able to adjust your dosage or suggest an alternate treatment without that side effect.
Low blood sugar
Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, occurs when the body doesn’t get enough glucose, or sugar. When you’re blood sugar is low, you can feel dizzy, weak–and of course, hangry. Low blood sugar can also lead to sweating, nausea, and confusion, says Dr. Glatter.
If your dizzy spell is related to low blood sugar, grab a snack. “Try orange juice, bananas, or a protein bar to quickly replenish sugar in the body if you are feeling dizzy or lightheaded,” says Dr. Hollingsworth.
Getting enough iron is essential, especially for women. Iron helps you produce red blood cells and maintain a healthy immune system. Watch this video for a list of seven iron-rich foods that can help reduce your risk of an iron deficiency.
Lightheadedness and dizziness when your body is parched can be tied back to blood pressure again, Dr. Hollingsworth says. “Severe dehydration can cause blood pressure to drop and prevent the brain from receiving proper oxygen, leading to dizziness.”
Underlying health conditions, like diabetes, could be making you dehydrated, so discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Otherwise, don’t stress about having to drink 8 glasses of H2O a day; instead, drink when you’re thirsty–and eat a diet packed with water-filled produce–to stay hydrated.
Think anxiety makes you dizzy? You're not alone: “Anxiety can cause acute attacks that make people feel lightheaded,” says Dr. Hollingsworth. “The lightheadedness probably results from over-activation of your body’s stress response.”
Avoiding triggers for your anxiety can prevent this type of dizziness, he says, but that’s not always the easiest thing to do. In the throes of a panic or anxiety attack, focus on your breathing. Taking quick, shallow breaths will only worsen lightheadedness or dizziness.
Heat exposure can lead to dizzy spells and lightheadedness if you’re not hydrated or prepared for extreme temperatures.
Heat-related illness can also make you feel sweaty and even nauseated, Dr. Glatter says. Heatstroke occurs when the body’s core temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and it is considered a medical emergency.
Confusion, disorientation, and slurred speech are signs heatstroke has become dangerous, he says. Help a person with heatstroke out of the sun. “It’s important to find an air-conditioned room, drink cool fluids, and apply cold packs to your forehead and neck to help you cool down,” Dr. Glatter says. Get a person with severe symptoms medical care as soon as possible.
“Motion sickness is a dizziness that occurs when you are in some sort of moving vehicle while sitting. It occurs because your body is getting mixed signals,” says Dr. Hollingsworth.
Basically, your eyes and ears are telling your body that you are moving, while your arms and legs are telling you that you are sitting still. “These mixed signals cause confusion that leads to dizziness,” he says. Some medications, like Dramamine, can help, he adds.
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Common food allergies, including to nuts, eggs, and shellfish, can cause dizziness. “Taking in these substances can lead to a severe immune reaction that drops your blood pressure, which leads to dizziness,” says Dr. Hollingsworth.
Try to avoid your allergens as best you can. Your doctor may recommend Benadryl or prescribe steroids or other treatments to help mitigate dizziness and other symptoms.
When to seek help
If your dizziness comes with persistent headache or vomiting, neck pain, a fever, blurred vision, difficulty hearing and speaking, numbness in the limbs, loss of consciousness, chest pain, or droopiness among facial features, it’s time to call your doctor.
These dizzy spell causes aren’t normal—there’s something more serious going on that needs to get checked by a professional, says Dr. Glatter.