What Is Vertigo? Your Guide to Treating and Preventing Serious Dizzy Spells


Ever get that woozy feeling like you’ve had one too many drinks—except you haven’t actually sipped anything? Sounds like vertigo. It’s a feeling of dizziness and unsteadiness, characterized by a sensation that you’re spinning, and it can last anywhere from seconds to hours. And it's pretty common: about 40% of adults will experience at least once in their lifetime.

While vertigo is often referred to as a specific condition, “it’s actually a symptom, not a diagnosis,” says Neil Bhattacharyya, M.D., a professor of otolaryngology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School. An inner-ear disorder called benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common culprits; it triggers vertigo when you move your head in certain ways, such as rotating it from side to side or looking up. But issues like migraine, anxiety and mood disorders, cardiovascular conditions, motion sickness, and a slew of medications can also throw you off-kilter. If you feel like you’re spiraling more than every so often, see a doctor, and if you have vertigo as well as difficulty walking, hearing, or talking, seek immediate medical attention, as this could signal a stroke or another serious condition.

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Here's how to prevent and treat vertigo

3 ways to prevent vertigo

1. Better your balance

Ballet dancers don’t get vertigo when they spin because the portion of the inner-ear system that’s responsible for balance adapts to detect and interpret their movement, says Amir Kheradmand, M.D., an associate professor of neurology, otolaryngology, and head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins University. Train your brain by doing activities that rely on eye, head, and body coordination such as dancing and Ping-Pong.  Wii Fit and Balance Board is a great tool that you could use for 30 minutes a day, in the comfort of your own home, which will greatly improve your BALANCE and document your improvement.

2. Get your vitamin D

A meta-analysis of six randomized trials found that taking a vitamin D supplement might help prevent recurring BPPV-related vertigo. It’s unclear whether vitamin D can help with vertigo not caused by BPPV, so talk to your doctor to see if supplementation makes sense for you.

3. Practice healthy basics

Exercise, a balanced diet, proper hydration, sleep, and managing stress can all help you keep control of heart and mental health conditions, thereby lessening the chance of vertigo associated with them. Migraine management tactics can similarly help. Keep a vertigo journal to help you and your doctor find patterns (and solutions!).


3 ways to treat vertigo

1. Be still

When you’re in the midst of vertigo, sit or lie down until it passes—this helps ease the sensations and keeps you safe so you won’t fall. Fix your gaze on one stationary point and press your arms or feet into the floor or furniture to tell your brain that your body is actually still.

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2. Pop a pill

Medication won’t fix the root cause but can provide some relief. For infrequent bouts of vertigo, over-the-counter motion sickness medications can help, but frequent or excessive use of these products can lead to adverse or rebound effects.

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3. See a specialist

If you have BPPV, a vestibular specialist can perform simple yet effective techniques (such as the Epley maneuver) to reposition the tiny calcium crystals in the inner ear that can cause vertigo when they become dislodged.

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Epley Maneuver to Treat BPPV Vertigo - YouTube