Basics of Vertigo: Symptoms and Causes

Vertigo Symptoms

Vertigo is a powerful sensation of dizziness or the feeling that the room around you is spinning. While it’s common to mistake vertigo as a health condition itself, it is actually a symptom that arises due to various underlying conditions affecting your vestibular system (a sensory system in your inner ear that helps regulate balance and spatial awareness) or the brain.

Causes and Types of Vertigo

Vertigo can develop suddenly or gradually. Acute (sudden) cases might be due to illnesses such as an ear infection. Chronic conditions like Ménière’s disease or tumors can cause vertigo to develop over time. Additionally, vertigo can occur following a stroke or a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Recognizing the symptoms of vertigo can help identify the underlying cause of your dizziness and determine when to seek medical care.


While vertigo itself is a symptom, there are two types of vertigo: peripheral and central. Regardless of the type, the primary symptom of vertigo is dizziness. It’s important to note that vertigo dizziness is different from lightheadedness. Vertigo dizziness creates a sensation that either you are spinning or your surroundings are spinning, whereas lightheadedness feels more like you are about to faint.

Peripheral Vertigo Symptoms

Peripheral vertigo develops suddenly and is usually related to an infection or issue in the inner ear. This type of vertigo accounts for about 80% of all cases.

In addition to dizziness, peripheral vertigo can cause:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty focusing your eyes
  • Hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Balance problems
  • Sweating

Central Vertigo Symptoms

Central vertigo results from a problem in the brain rather than the vestibular system. It is less common than peripheral vertigo and may arise from chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis, strokes, seizures, tumors, blood vessel disorders, or vestibular migraines.

Symptoms of central vertigo include:

  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking
  • Numbness or weakness
  • Double vision
  • Headaches
  • Light sensitivity

Symptoms in Children

While vertigo is rare in children, when it does occur, the symptoms are usually similar to those in adults. In children, vertigo often has fewer causes. Common causes include vestibular migraines or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a type of dizziness that occurs with rapid head movements. Children with a family history of migraines are more likely to develop vestibular migraines.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Experiencing a few episodes of vertigo during a mild illness affecting your upper respiratory system is not uncommon. However, you should consult a healthcare provider if you:

  • Have persistent vertigo without a clear cause
  • Recently experienced a head injury
  • Cannot perform daily activities due to vertigo
  • Experience falls due to dizziness

Immediate medical attention is necessary if vertigo is accompanied by:

  • Vision changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Sudden, severe headaches
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Numbness or weakness in the limbs

These symptoms may indicate a more serious condition, and prompt medical care can prevent serious complications

A Quick Review

Vertigo is a sensation of spinning dizziness caused by various conditions affecting the vestibular system or brain. It can be acute or chronic, with symptoms like dizziness, nausea, and balance problems. Immediate medical attention is necessary if vertigo is accompanied by vision changes, slurred speech, or severe headaches.

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