Symptoms of Vertigo vs. Dizziness

Vertigo is defined as a sensation of spinning and loss of balance, which can be caused by a disorder affecting the inner ear or the vestibular nerve. Vertigo is typically accompanied by nystagmus (rapid movement of the eyes) and a feeling of motion sickness. Individuals with vertigo may also describe feelings of imbalance, where they may lean or tip to one side. Vertigo almost always originates somewhere in the vestibular system. Common causes of vertigo are BPPV, Meniere’s Disease, labyrinthitis, and vestibular migraine.

Patients who experience non-vestibular dizziness may describe light-headedness when going from a laying to sitting position, or sitting to standing position. They may also describe their dizziness as feeling like they are floating or on a boat.

Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s Disease is caused by overproduction of fluid in the inner ear. This disorder causes pressure in the ears, dizziness, fluctuating hearing loss, and tinnitus. Patient’s with Meniere’s Disease often notice the onset of symptoms with barometric pressure changes. Meniere’s Disease typically causes episodes of vertigo that progressively get worse over a period of minutes, but can also last for hours. Symptoms typically improve after a period of several hours. A Meniere’s Disease diagnosis typically requires imaging and very specific neurodiagnostic testing.

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV)

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common causes of vertigo. BPPV is caused by otoconia (tiny ear crystals) becoming displaced and floating around in the semicircular canals. BPPV causes a sudden sensation of spinning or a feeling of the room moving around you. BPPV causes brief episodes of intense dizziness that usually go away fairly quickly after a person sits still. It can also cause feelings of loss of balance, unsteadiness, and nausea or vomiting. BPPV can be triggered by specific changes in the position of the head. Many people describe this sensation when they wake up in the morning and begin to sit up to get out of bed. BPPV should not be ignored as it can increase the risk of falling if not treated. Most BPPV can be effectively treated after a few visits.

Vestibular Migraine

Migraine headaches are a very common condition, specifically in women. Vestibular migraines are slightly different than the typical migraine. Vestibular migraines may or may not involve the aching headaches that most associate with migraines. Vestibular migraines can cause balance symptoms with or without a headache. Most individuals who have vestibular migraine also have a history of motion sensitivity since childhood. These migraines can involve nausea and vomiting, light sensitivity, sensitivity to noise and smell, and more of a throbbing headache in a particular spot on the head. Vestibular migraines can include dizziness or vertigo that lasts for days, sensitivity to motion, and feelings of imbalance. Vestibular migraines tend to be genetic and can cause symptoms that may seem similar to other vestibular disorders.

Man with tinnitus covering ears with a white background